When I was a kid and had cats and dogs around the house, my mother was always reluctant to let them inside. The inveterate animal lover that I have been, even from the cradle, wanted all my pets indoors at night so there was a nightly, emotional tug-of-war about whether my pets could come in or not. I could never understand my mother’s resistance. She would say, “Animals are dirty. They make the house dirty.” In my child’s perception of things, I didn’t see that at all. It seemed like a very weak excuse to me, just to make us all miserable. (Strangely, in her later years, my mother has done an about-face and has quite a few pets that she treats like her children, to my delight and amusement.)
Anyway, my mother’s legacy lives on, in a watered-down way, in me. I still make sure that my animals are inside, safe, warm and cozy at night. But one of the first things my new kittens learn is that the kitchen table and counter tops are definitely off-limits. So are the bathroom counter tops. All other spaces are permitted as long as they don’t start clawing. What the little cuties do when I’m not at home is a whole other matter.
Now a report in the Journal of Infectious Disease (Vol. 197, No. 2), vindicates my mother somewhat. The report titled “Escherichia coli Colonization Patterns Among Human Household Members and Pets, With Attention to Acute Urinary Tract Infection” says that our systems have the ability to clone the bacteria that is spread when kitty explores the higher reaches of your kitchen, carrying on her dainty paws the residue of her latest visit to her litter box.
The study’s subjects were human volunteers, recruited from the staff and visitors at a Minneapolis Veteran’s Administration hospital, and their pets — 48 dogs and 25 cats. Not every fecal sample from people and pets had the so-called extra-intestinal pathogenic E. coli, and even fewer people had acute urinary tract infections during the study.
But in households where people and pets all had E. coli, the bacteria were genetic clones of one another. That meant the person had given the bug to the cat or vice versa. In some cases, researchers said, the animal might have been an intermediate host between two infected humans. They said in conclusion: “Within-household sharing of E. coli … is common and can involve any combination of humans and pets.”
Granted, the study was small and we don’t know how well controls were instituted, but I’m including it in my blog as a cautionary tale, and I suggest that it might be a good idea to make sure your table and counter tops are cleaned with a sanitizer of some kind before preparing each meal. Also be fastidious about washing your hands after cleaning the litter box.
And if our little furry friends could read medical literature, I’m sure they would do the same for our germs.
Take a look at www.catwatchnewsletter.com for more information.