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The Ruff Report: Dogs and Health

A handy way to stop your pet from getting sick

Washing your hands - not kicking the dog out of your bed or stopping him from licking you - is the best way to prevent people and their pets from sharing dangerous germs.

A link has been found between antibiotic-resistant E. coli and owners who fail to clean their hands after petting their dogs or before cooking meals, according to a study done Dr. Kate Stenske, a clinical assistant professor at Kansas State's College of Veterinary Medicine.

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Washing hands is important because surveys show nearly half of all dog owners share food with their dogs, Dr. Stenske states in a media release from ScienceDaily. "We should use common sense and practice good general hygiene."

The study, published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research, shows that human-animal bonding behaviors like sharing a bed or allowing licks on the face had no association to an increase in shared E. coli bacteria.

Dr. Stenske said she decided to examine the public health aspects of these activities because many diseases are shared between people and dogs. "About 75 percent of emerging diseases are zoonotic, meaning they are transferable between humans and other animals," she said.

Dr. Stenske's study centered on E. coli bacteria, which is common in the gastrointestinal tracts of both dogs and humans. "People have it, dogs have it, and it normally doesn't cause any problems," she said. "But it can acquire genes to make it antibiotic resistant."

The study, which examined fecal samples from dogs and their owners and looked at the bacteria's DNA fingerprints, found that 10 percent of dog-human pairs shared the same E. coli strains. The E. coli had more resistance to common antibiotics than expected, although the owners had more multiple-drug resistant strains than their pets. 

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"This makes us think that dogs are not likely to spread multiple drug-resistant E. coli to their owners, but perhaps owners may spread them to their dogs," Stenske said.


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