They’re cute, cuddly, and loving, but pets—mostly dogs and cats— aren’t always appropriate for people.
It’s not always easy caring for pets, and sometimes having them in the home poses health hazards.
At Vision Veterinary Clinic, Kigali, animals, especially pets, receive special kind of care, including treatment, vaccination, and nutrition.
The clinic which started in 2016 aims at improving animal wellbeing, among other things.
Dr Jean Bosco Turikumwenayo, specialised in treating pets (cats and dogs), says people who keep pets, especially dogs, should be aware of zoonotic diseases, also known as zoonoses, which are directly transmitted from animals to humans through media such as air (influenza) or through bites and saliva.
Zoonotic diseases are caused by harmful germs like viruses, bacterial, parasites, and fungi. These germs can cause many different types of illnesses in people and animals ranging from mild to serious illness and even death. Some animals can appear healthy even when they are carrying germs that can make people sick.
The most extremely dangerous disease that is transmitted from animals to humans is known as rabies. It is a deadly virus spread to people from the saliva of infected animals.
Rabies is usually spread through an animal bite. Animals most likely to spread rabies include dogs, bats, coyotes, foxes, skunks and raccoons.
But domestic dogs are the most common reservoir of the virus.
Turikumwenayo says this happens when the virus enters the body via access of virus-laden saliva from a rabid animal into a wound, or by direct exposure of mucosal surfaces to saliva from an infected animal.
He explains that the virus cannot penetrate intact skin and that once the virus reaches the brain, it further replicates, resulting in presentation of clinical signs from the patient.
The good thing is that the disease has a vaccine, and that’s why the Government encourages dog owners throughout the country to vaccinate their dogs against rabies.
For instance, there is a community outreach programme where experts sensitise the public on the dangers of rabies, how it’s transmitted, its signs and how to seek help.
They also encourage people to get their dogs vaccinated to prevent spread of rabies.
“Since animals that have rabies secrete large amounts of virus in their saliva, the disease is primarily passed to dogs through a bite from another infected animal,” he says.
He notes that this can also be transmitted through a scratch, or when infected saliva makes contact with mucous membranes or an open, fresh wound.
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT
First of all, Turikumwenayo says, getting the dog vaccinated is one way of taking care of the dog itself, and also making sure the family is well protected.
He explains that this is so because once the dog is infected, it affects the wellbeing of the family.
“Once one has been bitten by a dog that wasn’t immunised before, the family will spend a lot of money in diagnosis and treatment to take care of the sick one,” he says.
When it comes to public health, Dr Celestine Karangwa, a medic at TCM Technology Clinic in Remera, says it’s a must for people to vaccinate their pets. By doing this, he says, one is promoting animal health and at the same time, protecting human health.
The vaccination programme indicates that the pets be vaccinated at least after two months. This means that a three-month-old puppy needs to be vaccinated.
Before three months, Turikumwenayo says it’s not recommended for a dog to be vaccinated against rabies because of the antibodies in the puppy acquired from the mother, which will end up killing the vaccine.
In Europe and the United States of America, the vaccine lasts for two and three years respectively, while in Rwanda it lasts for a year.
Karangwa says the owner needs to have proof that the dog has been vaccinated before, because should it bite someone, there should be evidence that it is free from rabies.
The virus, he says, is very dangerous to the dog, and so also extremely harmful to human beings. When one is infected with rabies, once the clinical signs surface, it’s hard to be treated, and one could die.
CAUSES/SIGNS AND COMPLICATIONS
Francis Kazungu, a general practitioner in Kigali, says the rabies virus affects the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord of humans and animals.
“During the incubation period, which is the time between exposure to the virus and the appearance of symptoms, the virus travels along nerves towards the brain, which takes at least 10 days, but in rare cases, it may take as long as a year,” he says.
He says the infection causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord that can lead to encephalopathy (a disease in which the functioning of the brain is affected by some agent or condition such as viral infection) and which later causes death.
He says the point of the bite is also where the rabies virus enters the body, and so the virus moves towards the brain along the nerves.
He says from here, one is likely to show the first sign in about one to three months after the virus enters the body. In humans, the first symptoms of the disease are non-specific and similar to other viral infections.
These signs include pain at the bite site, fever, and headache, general feeling of illness as well as nausea and vomiting.
As it increases, Turikumwenayo says one can experience anxiety, confusion, excessive saliva production, excitement, and insomnia, among others.
“It is important to seek treatment as soon as possible after the initial contact with the infected animal. Treatment must be started before the symptoms develop or it is highly unlikely to be effective in preventing death from the virus,” he says.
On the other hand, he points out that it’s important for the public to be educated on how to carry out First Aid once one has been bitten by an animal.
For instance, he says, when around the person, it’s important to get soap and water to clean the affected area before taking them to the hospital.
“The importance of this is that water helps dilute the microorganism, while soap helps kill the germs because it’s a detergent; this ensures that the wound is free from germs, thus prolonging the time for microorganisms to enter the body,” he says.
General hygiene is the most important thing when it comes to taking care of yourself and those around you. When this is maintained, there is minimal or no chances of people acquiring diseases from the animals they keep.
Iba Mayale, Gynaecologist
It’s important for dog owners to take care of their dogs because they are our companions, and they give us the best version of themselves every time. It’s only right that we take care of them the way they take care of us.
George Ndirangu, Journalist
Previously, I had lost four puppies and almost lost the fifth one through parvovirus disease, which I didn’t know about. After getting a deworming vaccine, they treated it and it was well. It’s important for people to be educated on how to take care of their dogs.
Faraz Ahmed, Dog owner
It’s important to keep up with all the vaccination recommended and take your pet to a vet on a regular basis. Making sure the children don’t get too close to the pets is important to avoid accidental bites while playing with them.
Florent Kwizera, Dog owner