People carry more drug-resistant strains of E. coli bacteria than their dogs, according to a study conducted in 2009 by Dr. Kate Stenske, a clinical research professor at the Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
The study, published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research, looked at how disease could be spread between owners and their dogs.
The study focused on E. coli bacteria only, which is common in the gastrointestinal tracts of both humans and dogs and under normal circumstances does not cause illness. Results showed that in 10 percent of dog-human pairs, owners and their dogs shared the same E. coli strains, which had more resistance to antibiotics than expected.
The owners had more multiple drug-resistant strains than their dogs, indicating owners are more apt to transmit multiple-drug resistant E. coli to their dogs than vice versa.
Bonding behaviors between owners and their dogs appeared to have no bearing on bacteria transmission. However, there was an association between antibiotic-resistant E. coli and owners who didn't wash their hands after handling their dogs or before cooking meals.
It’s estimated around 75 percent of emerging diseases are zoonotic, or transferable between humans and other animals.
This statistic is generating a lot of research like Dr. Stenske’s into how transmission takes place between people and pets.
The conclusions of Dr. Stenske’s study bring up two very important points I’d like to discuss with you today:
- The affection and closeness you share with your dog does not pose a threat of infection as long as you take reasonable precautions.
- Overuse of antibiotics is the health threat you really need to worry about.
Your Pup Is Part of Your Healthy Lifestyle
Study after study proves pet owners enjoy a wide range of health benefits from the connection they share with their animals, including:
- Less depression and feelings of loneliness
- Lower blood pressure and heart rate
- Regular exercise
- Stress reduction
- Less social isolation
- Faster recovery from serious illness and improved longevity
The ways you bond with your four-legged companions are as uniquely individual as each of you are. A growing number of people consider pets as members of their family, in every sense of the word. In fact, according to one study, the vast majority of dog owners (over 80 percent) feel their dog is like their child.
Many of you take your pets on errands, day trips and extended vacations. You arrange play dates and other activities for your pup to insure he gets plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, and interaction with other dogs.
You share your snacks, your couch and your lap, and make room on your bed for your furry companion -- often without concern for his size, weight, or the amount of fur he’ll leave behind!
Given how much you love and connect with your canine family member, isn’t it great to know there’s no reason to be overly concerned about smooching your pooch or letting her lick your face?
But Remember, Your Dog Is Not Human
It may be hard to imagine as you read this -- with your pup in your lap, perhaps, or as he sits at your feet staring up at you with warm, expressive eyes -- that dogs are not naturally affectionate.
Canines at play or in the wild don’t hug, kiss, or cuddle each other. Their natural behavior and ways of communicating and interacting don’t include displays of affection.
Your dog wasn’t born requiring the same kind of skin-to-skin contact you were. It is through socialization as very young puppies and consistent, gentle handling by their owners that dogs learn to appreciate giving and receiving affection from their humans.
Properly socialized, your dog will come to view affection from you as a reward for behavior. Be careful what behaviors you might inadvertently encourage by showing affection to your dog at the wrong time.
It’s also important to know when your dog is being affectionate vs. when he’s being dominant, as the behaviors can appear very similar from your human perspective. As a general rule, your dog should always follow your lead and not the other way around.
A Few Tips for Staying Healthy
1. Beware the scourge of unnecessary antibiotic treatment
Proceed with extreme caution if either you or your pet is prescribed antibiotics for any reason.
While human healthcare providers have grown slightly more cautious about over prescribing antibiotics, conventional veterinary practitioners are behind the curve.
As can be seen with the results of Dr. Stenske’s study alone, both owners and their dogs are carrying multiple-drug resistant strains of E. coli.
Frequent and often unnecessary use of these drugs is causing antibiotic resistance in a growing number of bacteria strains. When antibiotics are no longer effective against serious bacterial infections, life-threatening consequences are the result.
2. Consider giving your dog a probiotic
A high-quality probiotic supplement will recolonize your dog’s digestive tract with healthy bacteria, boost her immune system, and improve her overall health. This is especially important if your pet has received antibiotic therapy.
3. Practice good hygiene for you and your pet
Since bacteria transmission is more often human-to-dog rather than the reverse, the very best way to insure you and your pup don’t swap germs is to wash your hands before and after you handle your dog, and before touching food.
Regular and thorough hand washing is a key to avoiding illness, no matter the situation.
Brush and bathe your pet regularly.
A clean dog is more pleasant to share close quarters with, and you’ll be more apt to pet and massage her if she smells nice and her fur feels soft and smooth. You’ll also cut down on the dirt and allergens she brings into the house on her body and especially, her feet.
4. Treat bites seriously
While bacteria from dog kisses aren’t cause for concern, dog bites definitely are. Immediate treatment is necessary, whether the bite is superficial or more serious.
Clean the wound immediately with soap and warm water, rinsing thoroughly. Apply antibiotic ointment if you have some, and cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing. Watch for signs of infection, including redness and swelling.
If the bite is a deep puncture wound, seek medical attention immediately, as more intensive treatment may be required.