Cute. Frustrating. Cuddly. Biohazardous

All of these apply to puppies. It’s well recognized that puppies (and kittens) pose increased infectious disease risks, for a few reasons. These include a higher likelihood of shedding various pathogens, greater environmental contamination when they poop on the floor (or anywhere else) and a tendency to cause minor bites and scratches. That’s not meant to deter people from getting a puppy or a kitten, but it’s important to understand risks to mitigate risks.

Another issue with puppies (and other pets) is the potential for widespread dissemination of certain pathogens when animals are mixed in large breeding operations, warehouses and other mixing points. This allows for more transmission of pathogens and dissemination over wide areas when the animals are sold/dispersed. The way some of these animals are handled and shipped also contributes to stress, which can presumably increase the risk, when compared to low animal density individual breeders with more hygiene, less mixing and less stress.

An ongoing outbreak of (human) Campylobacter infections in the US brings some of these issues to mind. As of September 11th, 39 cases have been identified in 7 US states (see map below). Interestingly, a link to Petland, a national pet store chain, has been made. Twelve affected individuals are Petland employees, and 27 purchased a puppy from Petland, visited a Petland or visited a home where a Petland-origin puppy was present. Whole genome sequencing of Campylobacter isolates from puppies from Petland in Florida indicated that the isolates were closely related to those from a sick person in Ohio, supporting interstate dissemination and a related source.

The link to one pet chain is interesting, since it would suggest that there was some common source, be it a large breeding operation, animal distribution centre or other mixing place. No information about the puppy sources or handling is provided, so it’s hard to say what the sources might be.

Regardless of the specific Petland situation, it’s a useful reminder that any puppy or kitten can be biohazardous. I suspect that puppies from large pet distribution systems, puppy mills and pet stores pose more risk because of the stress and mixing, along with potentially dodgy background, but any puppy will pose some risk. We’re also more likely to identify cases from large operations since a common link can be established, so we shouldn’t focus too much on just reported outbreaks.

That means there’s a need for good hygiene practices, such as hand washing, proper fecal handling, good cleaning and disinfection after fecal accidents in the house, and a concerted effort to house train pets ASAP. Recognizing who is at higher risk (young kids, elderly individuals, immunocompromised persons, pregnant women) and having them take special care around puppies (and kittens) is also important.

More information about Campylobacter can be found on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pet page.