To mark National Pet Month a new study has found that, although we’re a nation of pet lovers, we are often not cleaning up properly after our furry friends which is leading to serious health risks. Among the stats, it was found that, although 79% of Brits are aware that their pets bring dangerous bacteria into their home, 1 in 10 have never washed their sofa cushions or carpets where their dogs sleep. We spoke Dr. Pixie McKenna from Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies about what we can do to keep the bus at bay when it comes to our beloved pets.

Dr Pixie McKenna

Dr Pixie McKenna

Why do we as a nation tend to forget about the bugs animals can carry?

We’re known to be a nation of pet lovers and this means that when many of us see a cute puppy or adorable kitten we instantly want to kiss or cuddle it. Over the past few years, Brits have been increasingly including their pets in their lives with many pet owners now viewing their cat or dog as an extension of the family. It’s for this reason that when it comes to our beloved pets we’re much more likely to be worried about their health rather than our own.

What sorts of nasties can we suffer from if your animals carry the wrong bugs into your home?

Not all germs carried by household pets can impact humans however, there are a number that do. These can be transmitted through a bite, scratch or more commonly though contact with a pet’s saliva, dander (dead skin cells) or waste. For instance, bacterial infections like Campylobacter can be spread through animal faeces and can cause stomach pain and upset. Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that is often hosted in cat litter and can cause symptoms from fevers to a sore throat and rash, or the fungal skin infection ringworm which manifests as a red, ring shaped rash.  

In addition, dog and cat fleas can be brought into the home by our pets so it is possible to be bitten which results in a red bump and itch. It’s unsightly and annoying but on the whole not concerning. Dogs may also carry ticks, which they pick up whilst roaming in long grass. These ticks may attach to your dog and can cause them to be unwell. They can also affect humans as they can live on three different hosts in its lifetime and within your home without feeding for a year or more. Tick borne diseases include Lyme disease, which is spread through the bite of infected ticks.

Does summer make any of these nasties worse?

Given your pet will spend more time outdoors in the summer there is more opportunity for them to bring in bugs after a day out.

Why is it important not only to keep our pets clean but also where they roam too?

Cleaning up after your pet isn't just about eliminating evidence and aromas. Although an area may look clean, it doesn’t mean that nasty bacteria aren’t lurking beneath the surface. It's not good enough to simply remove the sight and smell of a pet accident. To ensure bacteria and germs are removed you need to carry out a deep clean with a specialist product if you want to avoid the risk of you and your family becoming ill. If you have small children playing on the floor, parasites that live in pet faeces can come into contact with hands, mouths and eyes leading to nasty health implications for your little ones.

It’s also important that if you suffer with pet allergies or skin conditions like eczema that you regularly vacuum and wash your carpets and soft furnishings to remove excess fur, dust and allergens that can trigger or worsen allergic reactions.

Do you have animals? If so how do you keep your home and them as germ free as possible?

I have an 8 year old Boxer dog called Dinky who I love dearly and hug daily. She sleeps indoors but she has her own bed, not mine! In the event of an accident I’m first on cleaning duty as I understand out of sight is not out of mind where dog mess is concerned. A deep and thorough clean is always a must to keep my family, especially my daughter, safe.

Why did you want to get involved with BISSEL for this campaign as part of National Pet Month?

The nation loves their pets and as a GP I understand the importance of pet ownership. I've seen patients’ lives transformed thanks to getting a dog so I'm hugely pro pets. However, after a while I think some pet owners become complacent about ensuring their own health isn't compromised by sharing their home with an animal so, I really wanted to team up with BISSELL to highlight just how easy it is to keep homes clean and families safe through regular vacuuming and carpet washing.

As a GP, do you have lots of patients coming to you with complaints as a result of poor pet hygiene?

No, not obviously, but I do see a lot of indirect cases such as people coming in with ring worm, stomach bugs and allergies which can all be related to their pet parenting.

What should pet owners be doing as a minimum each day to keep germs from their pets at bay?

It’s so important to keep your pets clean and ensure strict hand hygiene especially after cleaning up waste. Surfaces used by pets such as sofas, rugs and carpets should be regularly and thoroughly vacuumed and washed as looking and smelling good is simply not enough! Bacteria hides beneath the surface and isn’t always visible to the eye so to keep your family’s health in check it’s essential that jobs like this are added to your cleaning regime.

What is next for you?

I'm currently shooting a documentary about sleep...something I sincerely lack! I have also just started writing the 5th in my series of "Baby Steps" books about child health and pregnancy. Although it's action packed I’m hoping to squeeze in the time to get another boxer puppy so I‘ll have my cleaning products at the ready!

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