AAHA contagious disease standards require that accredited practices address all aspects of patient care: the hospital environment, medical equipment and supplies, as well as the health and safety of the veterinary team, the patient, the pet owner, and the entire community. Included in the standards are protocols — specific guidelines — that address contagious diseases like parvovirus, feline leukemia, respiratory diseases, and distemper.
Dr. Tom Nelson, medical and surgical director of AAHA-accredited Animal Medical Center in Alabama, explains, “Protocols in general are important to maintain high levels of care. A contagious disease protocol is extremely important as the health of many patients as well as employees may be at stake.”
Having an organized plan for treating contagious patients and preventing diseases from spreading to other pets is crucial. At AAHA-accredited hospitals, the entire veterinary team is educated about contagious diseases and zoonoses — illnesses that can be transferred from animals to humans. The AAHA standards also recommend veterinary hospitals educate clients about the dangers of contagious diseases and how to prevent them from spreading.
Does my new pet need a checkup?
It is best to take your new pet to your veterinarian as soon as possible for a thorough exam, even if there are no signs of illness. Many contagious diseases, such as kennel cough, have an incubation period and may not be apparent for a few days.
If your pet is showing symptoms such as coughing or sneezing, be sure to let the veterinary team know. Veterinary professionals at AAHA-accredited hospitals are trained to prevent passing contaminants from pet to pet, and they may want you to remain in the car or enter through a backdoor to prevent the illness from spreading to other pets.
When assessing the health of your new pet, your veterinarian will want to know its history, behavior, and habits, as well any symptoms of illness. Questions your veterinarian may ask include:
- Where did your get your pet — from a breeder? A rescue group? A shelter?
- Did your pet come from a different state?
- Has your pet been vaccinated?
- Has your pet been treated for parasites?
- What do you feed your pet?
- Does your dog swim in ponds or lakes?
- Is your pet on any preventives such as heartworm?
- Has your pet been vomiting or does it have diarrhea?
Can my pet catch a disease from eating a raw diet?
In the wake of the widespread pet food recall, many owners have decided to feed their pets a raw food diet. This diet can pose many problems for your pets. Raw meat and eggs can carry disease-causing bacteria and parasites, including E. coli. Also, you can contract a disease by inappropriately handling the raw food. Many veterinary hospitals place pets that are on a raw food diet in an isolation ward to eliminate risks to other patients. Your veterinarian can give you the best nutritional advice for your pet.
How can I prevent my pet from getting a contagious disease?
The best way to protect you pet is to have it seen for regular exams and make sure it is current on its vaccinations. This includes heartworm tests and preventives, fecal tests, and flea and tick controls.
My pet is healthy. Why do I care about these standards?
When asked why clients should go to an accredited hospital, Nelson says, “Hospitals or clinics lacking a contagious disease protocol or facilities to handle such cases put other animals, employees as well as the pet owners at risk.”
Even if your pet is not sick, you and your pet will benefit from the AAHA standards of contagious disease. They help ensure that your pet won’t be exposed to a pet infected with a contagious disease while at the hospital. The trained veterinary team takes every precaution to contain disease to keep you and your pet healthy.
Zoonotic diseases are contagious diseases that can be transferred from an animal to a human. These include rabies, leptospirosis, and toxoplasmosis. Children are particularly at risk for contracting zoonotic illnesses because they like to eat things off the ground and don’t wash their hands frequently.
Some zoonotic diseases can be contracted by eating dirt contaminated with feces and parasites from dogs and cats. One example is visceral larva migrans, which can cause many health problems in children and adults, including blindness.
If you have a sandbox, keep it covered when not in use; don’t let your children play in dirt where dogs and cats may have defecated; and wash your children’s hands often.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 3 Issue 1, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.