To each his own, I guess. Today’s Toronto Star has an article on the front page of the Life section about the Shine family and their rather close dining relationship with their four cats.

Among some of the highlights:

One of the front page pictures shows one of the cats standing on the counter while food is being prepared.

  • Would you want your cat to sit on your food before you ate it? Probably not. Would you lick the cat’s feet after it got out of the litter box? Doubt it. By letting the cat sit on the food preparation area, aren’t they essentially doing the same thing?

The cats’ food and water bowls are on the kitchen counter.

  • Feeding pets in the kitchen was a risk factor in a Salmonella outbreak linked to contaminated pet food (Behravesh et al. 2010). That’s just feeding them in the kitchen, let alone on the counters.

The other front page picture shows a different cat licking dinner rolls before they are being served. "I’ll eat that one" declares the husband, an anesthesiologist (to check out the photo gallery, click here)

  • This maybe has a greater "ick factor" for most people, but in reality is probably much lower risk than the first two issues.

Yet another picture (slow news day?) shows a cat stretched out on the dining room table while the rest of the family eats.

As I said above, to each their own. People can make their own decisions about how to interact with animals. It doesn’t seem like there are any young children (who are subjected to their parents decisions) to worry about in the household. However, it’s unclear whether there might be any other high risk persons in the household to be worried about. Mrs. Shine has diabetes, and that can be associated with effects on the immune system. Further, what about other people that visit the house (or come over for dinner)? Are any of them high-risk individuals, and do they know about the potential risks? Who knows? (The Shine’s say they don’t have people over for dinner often.)

What’s the real risk? It’s hard to say. It’s probably low but we know:

  • people can get infections from cats
  • many of the infections that people get from cats are acquired by ingesting microorganisms from these animals
  • certain types of pet management (e.g. feeding them in the kitchen) have been associated with higher risk of infection

I’m all for close contact with pets and making them part of the family. If my cat jumps up on the dining room table during the day, I don’t panic and try to sterilize it (the table, that is). However, I try to maintain a balance between having my pets as part of the family and not having their microorganisms as part of my family.

There are much worse things that you can do with your pets than are demonstrated here, but I can’t believe that it doesn’t increase the risk of disease. Maybe for this family, they are willing to accept an increased degree of risk for the benefits they perceive. Unfortunately, I doubt they have really thought about the potential infectious diseases issues or talked to someone about them, to let them make a truly informed decision. (Perhaps (hopefully) their other daughter, who is currently attending vet school overseas, will be able to provide them with some more information on this topic when she gets home!)