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 Keep pets healthy

Owning a pet can be a rewarding experience for children and adults. And you can make sure it's a healthy experience by following a few simple tips. It all starts with keeping your pet healthy and being a responsible pet owner.

How can you keep your pet healthy?

  • Adopt your pet from an animal shelter or purchase it from a reputable pet store or breeder.
  • Have your new companion checked out right away by a veterinarian.
  • Keep your pet under a veterinarian's care for regularly scheduled shots and treatment for worms. This reduces the chance that your pet could get sick and pass an infection to you or your family. Since the cost of veterinary care may not be within everyone's reach, the local animal shelter or humane society may have information about low-cost clinics.
  • Give your pet a balanced diet and do not allow it to eat raw food or drink out of the toilet.
  • Clean your pet's living area at least once a week. Bury the feces, or place them in a plastic bag and then put it in the trash.
  • Litter boxes should be cleaned daily and the dirty litter placed in a plastic bag. To prevent infectious diseases that may cause birth defects, pregnant women should not change cat litter boxes. A child's sandbox can become a cat's litter box so cover it when not in use. Areas that have been contaminated with dog or cat feces should be off limits to children -- not only at home but also in public areas such as parks or playgrounds. And because toddlers naturally explore their environment, teach children not to eat dirt
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after handling or cleaning up after animals, especially reptiles. Teach your children to do the same. This is also important after contacting dirt because hookworms from animal feces in the soil can enter through your skin.

What about having a wild animal as a pet?
In general, wild animals do not make good pets because they are not tame and do not adapt well to living in a house. But if you must have one make sure you know about any special needs the animal has or diseases it can transmit before buying it from a pet store.

What's the most serious disease that animals can transmit to people?
The most serious disease that animals can transmit to people is rabies. But, because responsible pet owners are keeping their animals immunized each year, the number of rabies cases in the United States has been drastically reduced. However, rabies is still found in wild animals. Cats, as well as dogs, should be immunized against rabies.

Why should you have your pet immunized against rabies?
Having your pet immunized protects it against rabies if it's attacked by a rabid animal. But if your pet is not immunized, it could get rabies and then give it to you or your family. So obey local leash laws and control your pets so that they do not come into contact with, or prey on, wild animals.

What should you do if you are bitten or scratched by an animal?
Each year almost 800,000 persons bitten by dogs or cats require medical attention. So, never approach an unfamiliar animal. If you do get bitten or scratched always

  • Wash the area with soap and water,
  • Apply anti-bacterial medication, and
  • Bandage the wound, and consider medical attention.
  • Teach your children to tell you about any animal bite or scratch that they receive.

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This page last reviewed April 5, 2000

Division of Quarantine
National Center for Infectious Diseases
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