Animal Training and Pet Sitting Module 6

Disease, Health And Hygiene

We all know that pets can be messy – along with their human counterparts! This module discusses basic hygiene practices and how to deal disease problems that you may encounter along the way.

6.1 How to keep pets bedding and general environment clean and hygienic

6.2 Control of disease and infection

6.3 Keeping yourself safe from infection

6.4 Zoonosis

6.5 How to administer medication safely

6.1 How to keep pets bedding and general environment clean and hygienic

Pets can be quite messy and it is important to keep their environment as clean as possible. Infection with bacteria, fungi and external parasites can be linked to unhygienic living conditions. While pet sitting, you may find that your client’s idea of “hygienic” may be different from your own. If conditions are less than ideal, remember, you are there to care for the pet, not perform a housekeeping miracle. Here are a few things to consider, keeping yourself and your charge as healthy as possible during your stay:

Pet Bedding

  • Pet bedding is often overlooked by owners, unless they begin to smell. If your charge’s bed is odorous, wet, or becomes soiled, it is necessary to clean it. Spot-cleaning will often do the trick for small ‘accidents’ – while others may need a run through the washer. Beware: some fancier beds may require dry cleaning or special handling. Others may be filled with organic material like wood chips that need to be replaced from time to time.
  • Dust off the pet’s bedding once a day. This is best done outdoors to avoid hair from flying everywhere! Keep a pet hair/lint roller in your bag to facilitate hair removal.
  • Have clean towels handy to clean up wet, muddy paws, water or food spills. Launder these as needed. Don’t leave a pile of dirty linens for your client!
  • Tip: Ask the client if you are allowed to launder the beds or if this is required during your stay. Request a tour of laundry facilities, extra change for coin-machines (may be present in some apartment buildings with common laundry areas) and have the owner provide detergent.

Food and Water Bowls

  • Food and water bowls need to be cleaned daily. Even ‘antimicrobial’ plastics can develop disgusting ‘biofilms’ where layers of food, saliva and bacteria have made a home upon the dish. If your charge’s bowls are in horrible condition, soak them in hot soapy water for a few hours, then make a dilute bleach rinse. Once dried, caked-on ‘goo’ is removed, most can be put through the dishwasher on the top rack.
  • Dirty feeding bowls are linked to gingivitis and periodontal disease in pets.
  • Dirty feeding bowls can also be a source of food-borne illness – be sure to wash your hands well after handling food/water bowls.

Food Storage and Preparation

  • Check bags of pet food for holes, water damage or signs of rodents. If any food source seems mouldy, has a rotten or ‘damp’ smell, discard and notify the client that the food needs to be replaced.
  • Open cans of dog or cat food need to be stored in the refrigerator. Warming refrigerated food can make it more palatable for your new feline or canine friend.
  • If your client feeds their pet ‘raw’ – take precautions to protect yourself. Wear disposable latex gloves when handling ‘raw’ pet foods. Prepare or thaw out any frozen ‘raw’ food items per the client’s instructions. Food-borne illnesses caused by Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter can occur after handling or consuming raw meat. If you or your charge developsabdominal cramping, vomiting or diarrhea, notify your physician and the pet’s veterinarian.

Clean up muddy paw prints and keep the floor as tidy as you can. Locate the vacuum cleaner and keep it handy, as well as a mop and bucket. If the cats kick out litter every time they use their loo – sweep it up on a daily basis. Having a mini ‘cleaning protocol’ in mind for every day will help you keep the ‘mess of doing business’ to a minimum.

6.2 Control of disease and infection

Controlling disease and infection is important for every pet. In the ‘interview’ process, ask your client if their pet has any chronic health issues. Become aware of what symptoms they may exhibit while the owner is away. As mentioned previously, keeping water and food bowls clean will help prevent food-borne illness in pets.

Contact with other animals can cause infections to spread. Contact with wildlife can be kept to a minimum if you accompany the dog outdoors on a leash after dark. Be wary of allowing dogs to touch noses with other dogs while out on walks or at the dog park. Even if your charge is fully vaccinated – there are other illnesses that can spread from pet-to-pet and cause illness while you are sitting.

If you carry equipment to be used on pets at each job, be sure they are cleaned properly in between. This includes washing and disinfecting cage muzzles, cloth muzzles, extra leashes, towels, grooming supplies, and water or food dishes.

If your charge develops an illness on your watch, contact the owner and their veterinarian as soon as possible. If the pet vomits or has diarrhea, wear disposable latex gloves to clean up the mess. Disinfect the area as best you can – don’t forget the door to the crate or kennel and the walls. Don’t mix cleaning chemicals – especially ones you are not familiar with. A 1:30 bleach/water solution is excellent for disinfecting many non-porous metal and plastic surfaces. Launder soiled bedding, towels and linens separately from other clothing and use a hot drying machine if possible. Separate other pets from the pet that is sick. This may require kenneling the pet in a separate room, such as a bathroom (tile floors are easiest to clean!). Monitor the others for similar signs of sickness. Contact the owner and veterinarian straight away if there are any health concerns.

6.3 Keeping yourself safe from infection

Make a cleanliness assessment when you first meet the client at the home. Sometimes this is not possible and you may arrive to the home for the first time as the client is turning over the keys to you. As previously mentioned, it is important to keep everything as hygienic as possible – but no one expects you to work a housekeeping miracle.

If conditions are horrific within the home, talk to the client about it when they return. If you find the place to be uninhabitable at the first visit – you may not want to stay there! Launder linens or carry your own sleeping bag if you are staying overnight.

Animal bites and scratches also cause infection. Bites that break the skin are always serious. Clean the area thoroughly with warm water and soap and then seek medical attention. Cat scratches can be especially dirty and can cause infections such as Bartonella (also known as Cat Scratch Disease).

Remember to pack some disposable latex gloves for your pet sitting stay. These will come in handy protecting you from possible infection if the pet is sick. Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap after handling the pets, their medications, and their feces or bodily fluids. Puppy kisses may be cute – but don’t forget to wash your face afterwards! There are a number of different diseases that can be transmitted between humans and pets, which will be addressed in the next module section.

Things to keep on hand – keeping yourself and the pets healthy – Checklist

  • Disposable latex or vinyl gloves
  • Face-mask for dusty litter boxes
  • Small plastic bags

For disposing of soiled cat litter, transporting your soiled clothes and picking up dog feces:

  • Roll of paper towels
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Good quality soap (antimicrobial is best)
  • Change of clothes and shoes (don’t forget socks!)

6.4 Zoonosis

Zoonosis is any disease or infection that can be passed between animals and humans. Many people don’t realize it, but our pets can make us sick. If you practice good hygiene – most of these diseases are not an issue and infection is rare. It is important to be aware of them, especially if you or a family member is immuno-compromised, taking chemotherapy drugs or pregnant. A few important zoonotic diseases to be aware of include:

  • Ringworm = Dermatophytosis
    • Despite its common name, this skin disease is caused by a fungus.
    • Cats are primary asymptomatic carriers of ringworm. Normal cats with no skin problems can spread ringworm through the house. Signs in pets include hair loss and scaling of the skin in a specific location or two, especially on the head and ears. Pets may or may not be itchy.
    • Common signs in humans include itchy, red, dry, scaling skin and a classic circular “ring”-shaped rash.
  • ‘Walking Dandruff’ = Cheyletiella
    • This is a mite that is commonly carried by young kittens, but can be seen on dogs and older cats.
    • These mites are very large and often look like a piece of dandruff or skin scale – except they walk around!
    • Bumps and scabs are seen on the skin of affected animals and humans, along with dry, red skin.
  • Roundworms
    • Roundworms are very large and look like your pet has passed undigested spaghetti noodles in their stool.
    • Some pets may also vomit roundworms.
    • Puppies and kittens are often infected by eating feces of infected animals or are infected while still in the womb.
    • Roundworms can cause anemia, vomiting and diarrhea in dogs and cats.
    • Puppies, kittens and adult pets are routinely dewormed for treatment and control of roundworms.
    • Humans most often get roundworms from ingesting contaminated soil on unwashed vegetables, during gardening or through contact with pet feces.
    • Children are especially vulnerable to roundworm infection. Roundworms can infect the human eye, possibly causing blindness.
  • Hookworms
    • Unlike roundworms, hookworms are not visible to the naked eye.
    • Puppies and kittens are often infected by eating feces of infected animals or through their mother’s milk.
    • Hookworms can cause weight loss, malnutrition, anemia, vomiting and diarrhea in dogs and cats. Young puppies and kittens can die from a hookworm infection.
    • Puppies, kittens and adult pets are routinely dewormed for treatment and control of hookworms.
    • Hookworm larvae can penetrate bare skin in people, leaving a red rash. Often, this happens on the feet after someone has walked barefoot on contaminated sand or soil.
    • Some people notice a “travelling rash” on their hands or arms – this rash is from the movement of the hookworm (this is called visceral larval migrans).
  • Leptospirosis
    • Also known as “lepto” – this bacterial disease is found world-wide.
    • It is often acquired from drinking contaminated water or after having contact with contaminated urine through the mouth, nose or broken skin.
    • “Lepto” used to only be considered a disease of hunting or outdoor-only dogs. Now, with more and more overlap between suburban and rural areas – allowing movement of wildlife – leptospirosis is found everywhere.
    • Many veterinarians encourage vaccination of ALL dogs against many strains of “lepto.”
    • Even if your dog has been vaccinated, there are some strains of “lepto” that aren’t covered by the vaccines.
    • Leptospirosis causes high fever, kidney failure, vomiting and other symptoms both in humans and in dogs.
  • Giardia infection
    • Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes watery diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal cramping in both humans, dogs and cats.
    • It is transmitted by ingestion of contaminated water or feces.
    • Giardia is very common in wildlife and shelter animals.
    • Infection can cause weight loss and dehydration in dogs and cats.
    • Giardia infections can mimic Canine Parvovirus infection in young puppies – if your puppy develops diarrhea, seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible!
    • If you develop symptoms after caring for a pet with similar symptoms, see your physician as soon as possible.
  • Cryptosporidium infection
    • Commonly known as “crypto”
    • Caused by a microscopic parasite, symptoms in people and pets include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and weight loss.
    • Infection happens after ingestion or contact with contaminated water or feces. Commonly seen after swimming in lakes, rivers and even swimming pools.
    • If you develop symptoms after caring for a pet with similar symptoms, see your physician as soon as possible.
  • Scabies
    • These are small mites that cause severely itchy skin on pets and humans.
    • Tiny, raised, red bumps are often seen, due to the mite burrowing into the top layer of the skin.
    • Common areas affected on humans include around the middle (‘belt-line’), around the ankles and on the hands.
    • Newly-adopted young animals and ‘strays’ are most commonly affected.
    • Over-the-counter ‘scabicides’ can be purchased to clean carpet, upholstery and linens in affected households.
    • Drying at temperatures over 50 C (122 F) for 10 minutes will kill scabies mites.
  • Lyme Disease
    • Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called spirochetes.
    • The bacteria are transmitted to both humans and dogs through tick bites.
    • Only certain species of ticks carry Lyme disease, the Ixodes tick, also known as the deer tick or black-legged tick.
    • While dogs and cats don’t directly transmit Lyme disease to people, they can bring the infected ticks into the household, where they bite humans and transmit the disease.
    • In endemic areas, such as the Northeastern United States, it is important to ask your clients if their dogs and cats are on tick prevention. Many dogs are vaccinated against Lyme disease in these areas.
    • Lyme disease causes a wide range of symptoms in dogs and humans – such as fever, joint pain, transient lameness, neurologic symptoms, and kidney problems.
    • Cats can be affected by Lyme disease but it is very uncommon.
  • Toxoplasmosis
    • This disease is caused by a microscopic parasite. Infection causes food-poisoning-like symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea) but can also cause neurologic and reproductive problems in humans.
    • Toxoplasmosis is one of the leading causes of death attributed to food-borne illness in the United States.
    • While this disease is often blamed on cats living in the household, it is more common to be infected through eating or handling undercooked meat, ingesting contaminated soil on unwashed vegetables and gardening.
    • Handling of cat or dog feces can lead to infection.
    • Pregnant women are especially at risk – infection while the woman is pregnant can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects.
    • If you are pregnant or immune-compromised and there is nobody else in the household to clean the cat’s litter box, it is important to clean it DAILY – as this will help to prevent toxoplasma spores from becoming infective. The longer the cat feces sit in the litter box – the more likely they are to become infective.
    • Wear disposable latex gloves and a face-mask to protect against dust inhalation. Wash your hands thoroughly after disposing of the feces in the waste bin.
    • For more information, discuss your risk level with your OB or general practitioner.
  • Rabies
    • This is the most severe of all zoonotic diseases – it is 100% fatal.
    • Rabies is caused by a virus and is found world-wide.It is transmitted through animal bite wounds and contact with infected saliva.
    • Pets and humans can be exposed by wildlife (skunks, foxes, raccoons) and feral dogs and cats.
    • Rabies causes a rapid onset of neurologic problems, aggression, coma and death.
    • Time from infection to death varies from 10 days to 6 months.
    • Governments around the world have laws in place regarding vaccination of household pets in order to protect humans.
    • It is recommended that pet sitters and dog walkers require that every dog or cat in their care be current on their Rabies vaccine.
    • In most places, Rabies vaccine can be given to puppies and kittens between the ages of 12-15 weeks.
    • If your charge has been bitten by or exposed to a wild animal or unknown dog or cat during your care, report the incident to the local animal control authorities and the pet’s veterinarian.

6.5 How to administer medication safely

“Pet parents” often turn to pet sitters when they have a pet that needs a little extra care. Many of these ‘special needs’ pets may have chronic medical conditions. Others may be perfectly normal but are still in recovery from a surgical procedure.

Know your own limits and comfort zone. For example, if you are afraid of needles, it is not a good idea to care for a diabetic cat or dog. Many diabetics require insulin injections twice daily. Other diabetics may require skin-pricks and blood glucose testing on a daily basis.

Most medications are given by mouth or under the skin by injection. Common medications are found in capsule, tablet or liquid form. Always give all medications as directed on the label. Special injectable medications, such as insulin, certain vitamins and subcutaneous fluids are given under the skin. Giving medication by injection successfully and safely can take time and practice. Some people easily get the hang of it after being shown by the owner a time or two.

Always ask the owner and have them write down for you:

  • What medications are being given?
  • How many times daily is it given?
  • Could you please leave the original label and bottle with me?
  • Why is your pet receiving this medication?
  • What are the side effects of the medication?
  • Does it require refrigeration?
  • Must it be given with food or on an empty stomach?
  • How does your pet tolerate being given the medication?
  • Is there a certain technique you use for giving the medication?
  • Where is the peanut butter, cheese, Pill Pockets, etc. that is used to give the medication?

Also, ask the owner for the following information to have on hand:

  • Prescribing veterinarian’s name, phone number and address.
  • Local human pharmacy’s name, phone number and address.

Methods of Giving Medication

It can be a challenge giving pets medication on your own. Here are a few tips on how to be successful and keep yourself safe:

  • Always give the medication in a tasty treat, if possible. Many dogs don’t know that there’s a pill in the middle of that peanut butter!
  • Cats can be a little more tricky. Cheese and commercially available salmon-flavored Pill Pockets (made by Greenies) can be helpful.
  • You can give liquid medications at the corner of the mouth without the mouth being fully opened. Larger volumes need to be given slowly, allowing the pet to swallow.
  • Purchase and carry with you a “pill popper” syringe to use on more difficult pets. This “syringe” has a flexible silicone chamber on the end which holds the pill, and a plunger on the other side. Once the pet’s mouth is open, put the pill and syringe end far back into the mouth, push the plunger, close the pet’s mouth and pull out the syringe. Veterinary staff often call this special device a “finger-saver”!
  • Any time you give a pill medication, rub the pet’s throat area to encourage swallowing.
  • After giving a pill, follow it with a small dose of water given by a 5 or 10 ml syringe. Syringes can be purchased at pet stores or at veterinary offices.
  • If you aren’t sure if the pet got the dose, check the hair on the neck and the “cheeks” between the teeth and lips. You may find a pill on the floor later!
  • If a pet misses a medication, it can be life-threatening, depending on their medical issue. If you are unsure if they got a dose, always call the veterinarian before re-dosing.

ALWAYS take care to keep yourself safe. Many carers get bitten when giving medication. Ask a neighbor or friend for help if you need it. In a dire situation, take the pet to your local veterinarian, where the staff will be more than happy to give the medication for you

Well Done!