All creatures great and minute: a public policy primer for companion animal zoonoses

J K Reaser, E E Clark, N M Meyers
Zoonoses and Public Health 2008, 55 (8-10): 385-401
Approximately 63% of US households have at least one pet, a large percentage of which are considered family members. Pet owners can derive substantial physical and psychological benefits from interaction with companion animals. However, pet ownership is not without risks; zoonotic diseases are increasingly drawing the attention of healthcare professionals, policy makers and the general public. While zoonoses of 'traditional' pets are widely recognized and their prevention and treatment factors are generally known, the growing popularity of 'non-traditional' pets has the potential to facilitate human exposure to novel zoonoses. However, the greatest risk of zoonoses probably arises from animals taken directly from the wild to serve as pets. Non-governmental organizations, state veterinary associations and others have been calling for increased regulation of animal imports, some proposing that all 'exotics' be banned from the pet trade. Because zoonotic diseases of companion animals are influenced by interacting factors of ecological, technical, socio-economic, and political origin, efforts to minimize their impact need be multi-dimensional, simultaneously addressing both the ecological and socio-political drivers of disease emergence and transmission. This study is intended to serve as a primer for animal care professionals seeking to engage with policy makers and the pet industry on the prevention of companion animal zoonoses. We provide background on the human-animal bond, risks of zoonoses associated with groups of companion animals, and the public policy context, as well as identify the factors needed to build a comprehensive approach to companion animal zoonoses risk management. Also included are examples of innovative, non-regulatory initiatives designed to limit the spread and impact of companion animal zoonoses, including a reptile salmonella poster, the National Reptile Improvement Plan, Habitattitude campaign, Pet Zoonoses Committee, and a wildlife disease surveillance initiative known as Project TripWire.

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