It is a comforting to think of our homes as islands cut off from the rest of the world, that we can leave all of the unpleasantness behind just by closing the front door. A nice thought, but unfortunately not an accurate one. Our homes are just one other ecosystem of the natural world. Indeed, the generally dry and warm habitat of the average home is the ideal environment for millions of little organisms.
A lot of these creatures fill important and natural niches in our daily biology by, for example, eating up excess dead skin and hair. They cannot be eradicated entirely — but their numbers can be drastically reduced.
Whereas other species have no worldly presence in the home at all. Instead, they are ‘invited’ in — whether we know it or not — taking advantage of our ignorance; usually as hitchhikers on the backs of our pets.
Pets brighten up any home and make it a livelier place to be. But — like humans — they do not come alone. They carry with them parasites and pathogens of their own. Parasites are a fact of life but does not mean we have to put up with them. Bad and ignorant habits can encourage these creatures into our home, where they then thrive and can make us and our pets seriously ill.
Below is a short introduction to some of the most common — and serious — invasive creatures, and what you can do to fight them:
Toxoplasma Gondii: The ‘Mind-Altering Worm’
Toxoplasma is a microscopic parasitic organism that can cause the condition toxoplasmosis. It is one of the most common parasites on Earth and may even already be inside half of the world’s human population.
This parasite lives naturally in the gut of cats and some dogs and passes through in their faeces. It can make cats and dogs very ill, causing a loss of appetite, rashes, seizures, fever, and breathing problems. Even more disturbingly, has been revealed in humans to infect the brain where it can subtly affect our behaviour and make us more likely to take risks.
Toxoplasma is one of the most difficult parasites to avoid, especially if you have cats. Cats may walk over their own faeces and then carry the parasite all over the house as it walks. In some places, this may even include kitchen worktops. The best way to deal with this parasite is to be vigilant. Litter trays are a hotbed for infection. So regularly empty and clean them. Clean your cat and your dog’s feet on a regular basis. Wash your hands after touching your pet, and most importantly, do not touch your face.
Toxoplasmosis can be symptomless for a long time, but it is treatable with antiparasitic drugs. If in doubt, consult your vet.
Cryptosporidium (often shortened to just ‘Crypto’) is a microscopic parasite that lives in water. It even has a shell to protect itself from chlorine — making swimming pools the most likely source of infection in humans.
In pets, this parasite mostly jumps from animal to animal via urine and droppings, with the initial infection coming from contaminated water. Crypto infection can make your animals very dehydrated, with one of the most notable symptoms being an upset stomach — which of course helps to spread it to even more animals. The illness is usually short-lived (about three days), however, it can sometimes last longer and be more serious.
To prevent Crypto infection, don’t let your pet drink anything you wouldn’t drink. To treat infection, provide plenty of water and high-fibre foods. If in doubt, consult with your veterinarian.
Ticks are woodland creatures. They pose the biggest threat in the garden. where they can prey on your pets in the summertime. Ticks are vectors for all sorts of diseases that can make you and your pets very sick, including the dreaded Lime disease.
Most ticks cannot survive indoors — but one can. The Brown Dog Tick can thrive and even breed successfully in the home. As the name suggests, they tend to hitchhike in on the back of dogs.
To prevent a possible tick infestation, keep the vegetation cut back in the garden, and the lawn well-trimmed. Be vigilant on long walks in the summer if you have a dog, and do not let it run through long grass. Finally, upon returning into the house, check your pet thoroughly for ticks. After a blood feed, they are horrid little creatures. You will most likely find them pincered to your pet’s skin and motionless. No matter how tempting it can be, do not rip them off. That can be very painful for your pet. Instead, gently grip the creature with a pair of tweezers and slowly lift them off in an upwards direction.
If you suspect your pet may have a tick-born illness, contact your vet.
Infestations of cockroaches are increasing, even in countries that we do not usually associate with them — such as the UK. They are drawn to food deposits: crumbs, stray pet food and general pet mess, etc. on the floor. After scavenging for food, they will then retreat to small cracks and crevices, rendering them mostly invisible to homeowners and pets.
But their destruction is very visible, and not without its consequences. If there is no food left to scavenge, cockroaches will respond by leaving ‘smearing marks’ over the house and with increased shedding of their exoskeletons. Both can spread illnesses like wildfire, and trigger allergies in both humans and pets.
Try not to leave any food — not even crumbs — around in the house; especially if you have an old house. Hoover often, and clean up after your pet’s food bowl. If you suspect you have a cockroach infestation, contact your local pest control team.
Bizarrely, whether bed bugs can bite animals or not is still a matter of contention. Some scientists are convinced they indulge on our furry friends with the same conviction as humans, so for the purpose of this article, we will consider that they can. In which case, bed bug bites can leave swollen blister-like sores that can readily be infected, and even cause asphyxiation.
Bed bugs are ironically the product of a clean home, where such cleanliness allows them to spread very easily. For example, infestations are increasing in luxury hotels and apartments — where tenants often complain of a faint coriander like smell (a by-product of infection).
This is not a recommendation to neglect cleaning duties in the home! Rather, defeating bed bugs requires extra vigilance whenever you return from an overnight stay at any hotel, apartment, or house. Contain any items of clothing and wash on a high temperature (over 60 degrees Celsius) to kill any lingering eggs, and hoover readily. If you suspect your home is already infected, then contact your local pest control resource.
These notorious insects love animal blood as much as ours and are vectors for diseases such as malaria, heartworm, and encephalitis. They are most common in the summertime, and particularly around dusk. Like ticks, the garden is their port of entry. Most people can testify to leaving a window open on a hot night to find dozens of mosquitos standing in waiting on the walls.
Protect your pets by covering up any sources of open water — such as that of a pond — in the garden, and by removing anything likely to encourage egg-laying (such as heaps of rubbish). Turn off any outside lights after dusk and keep the windows closed. If your pet is ill, of an infection you think is likely to be mosquito-borne, then you can buy over-the-counter medication. If in doubt, contact your local veterinarian.
Most mammals come with their own unique species of mites that live on the body, feeding off oily glands and dead skin. The human face alone has two distinct species of face mite, and dogs have their own species that have adapted to roam through thick fur. Mites fulfil important biological roles, but bad hygiene can rapidly increase their numbers — which can cause health problems.
In humans, excessive numbers of mites can even lead to hair loss, outbreaks of rashes, and a skin condition called rosacea. In dogs, cats, hamsters and more, symptoms include head-shaking, aggressive itching, and excessive fur-licking.
Fortunately, you can drastically reduce their numbers with regular grooming, and the appropriate shampoos for that pet. Visit your local pet store for information on choosing the right shampoo.
Thank you to guest author, Neil Wright with Pure Freedom.