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Dogs and cats carry germs in mouths (11-18-99)

Before you let your dog or cat lick your face, think twice. As much as you might feel your pets are family, deserving the same demonstrative affection, some germs they carry could be dangerous to susceptible people.

We have to keep in mind that the hygiene routine for dogs and cats involves their tongues Ė they lick themselves from head to paw with their tongues," says Richard Haines, D.V.M, veterinarian of laboratory animal resources at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "Their tongues arenít disinfected after every licking, so think of the germs they are spreading when they are allowed to slobber on your face and even worse, your mouth."

In their mouths, canines and felines carry intestinal parasites, bacteria, and fungi that may cause diseases such as ringworm. "Most humans can ward off these parasites and bacteria because of antibodies, but for individuals who are immunologically compromised, such as patients with AIDS, the potential harm from getting one of these parasites could be devastating," says Dr. Haines.

Expectant women need to take note if they have cats in their homes. "A catís litter box is filled with Toxoplasma gondii, a one-cell parasite that can do tremendous damage to an unborn baby. The parasite can cause mental retardation as well as damage the formation of major organs such as the heart, lungs and liver," says Dr. Haines. "I canít stress enough the importance of having someone else change the litter box until after the baby is born."

The best advice Dr. Haines offers pet owners is to wash their hands after every contact with their dogs or cats. "Itís common practice to wash your hands after going to the restroom, and the same principle applies to handling your pet; wash your hands for sanitary purposes."

Contact: Myong Covert