The Food Safety Information Council today released consumer research that shows 31% of cat owners saying they feed their cats raw meat and 12% of cat owners saying they don’t always wash their hands after cleaning out their cat’s litter tray. Both these behaviours can be a risk of sharing food poisoning bacteria and parasites with your furry friend.
Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with 68.7% of Australian households having pets. According to a survey by Animal Medicines Australia, 48% of households have dogs, 33% have cats, 11% keep birds, 12% keep fish, 3% keep reptiles and 4% have small mammals.
Most of us consider pets to be part of the family and, in return, having a pet has been shown to have positive health benefits. Studies show owning a pet can reduce stress, increase rates of exercise and even reduce the incidence of allergies and help strengthen the immune system in children exposed to pets in early childhood.
But despite these benefits we need to be aware that our pets can share more than love with the rest of your family. Pets can carry bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi which can be transmitted to humans, especially young children, through bites, poop, saliva or pet ‘dandruff’.
Here are some simple tips about avoiding infections from your pets:
- Make sure your pets are fully immunised, dewormed, and have had flea and tick treatments.
- Cats and dogs may pass on Salmonella infections if they eat raw meat so it is best to feed them a balanced diet of a commercially prepared food and try to keep cats inside so they cannot eat wild birds or animals. Cats can also pass on the infective stage of Toxoplasma parasites if they are fed raw meat and that can be particularly risky for pregnant women and their unborn babies, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. Try to avoid cleaning out litter trays if you are pregnant and empty litter trays daily as the parasites in the cat’s faeces don’t become infectious until 24 hours after being excreted from the cat.
- Try to keep pets out of areas where you are preparing food, especially kitchen benchtops. As always, wash your hands with soap and dry thoroughly before handling food and after handling your pet, their food or toys. Don’t let your pets lick or take food from your plate. Don’t wash pet food bowls in with your own dishes, preferably wash them in a separate laundry sink if you have one.
- Responsible pet ownership involves a lot of picking up poop which can transfer germs to your hands. Always wash your hands after cleaning out cages, fish tanks, sandboxes (including sand toys) and cat litter as well as after picking up after your dog. When out walking your dog, and if you have been picking up poop, make sure you wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you eat or drink anything, or prepare food for others.
- Make sure to secure and cover children’s sandboxes when they are not in use to deter cats from using them as makeshift litterboxes.
- Birds, including your backyard chooks, and reptiles, have been linked to Salmonella infections in people. Make sure you and your children wash your hands after handling them or cleaning their environment. Always wash your hands after collecting eggs.
- Avoid walking without shoes in parks or beaches that could be visited by dogs or cats, as you may contract parasites from contaminated soil or sand through your skin.
The research about feeding cats raw meat and handwashing after cleaning out litter trays was funded by a donation from SA Health and conducted nationally online over the period August 24-29, 2023, among a sample of 1238 people aged 18 years and over. To reflect the overall population distribution, results were post-weighted to Australian Bureau of Statistics data (Census 2021) on age, sex, area and highest level of education.
Lydia Buchtmann, Food Safety Information Council, 0407 626 688 or firstname.lastname@example.org