Dog owners who sleep with their pet or permit licks on the face are in good company. Surveys show that more than half of owners bond with their pets in these ways.
Research done by a veterinarian at Kansas State University found that these dog owners are no more likely to share the same strains of E. coli bacteria with their pets than are other dog owners.
Dr. Kate Stenske, a clinical assistant professor at K-State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, studied this association as part of her doctoral research at the University of Tennessee. The research is scheduled to appear in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Veterinary Research.
Stenske said the finding that these human-animal bonding behaviors aren’t more likely to spread germs is good news because there are physical and psychological benefits of pet ownership.
“I became interested in the topic because there is such a strong bond between dogs and their owners,” Stenske said. “If you look at one study, 84 percent of people say their dog is like a child to them.”
Stenske said surveys also show that nearly half of all dog owners share food with their dogs, and more than half allow the dog to sleep in the bed and lick them on the face.
“We also know diseases can be shared between dogs and people,” Stenske said. “About 75 percent of emerging diseases are zoonotic, meaning they are transferrable between humans and other animals. With these two pieces of knowledge, I wanted to examine the public health aspects of such activities.”
Stenske’s study centered on E. coli bacteria, which is common in the gastrointestinal tracts of both dogs and humans.
“People have it, dogs have it, and it normally doesn’t cause any problems,” she said. “But it can acquire genes to make it antibiotic resistant.”
The study examined fecal samples from dogs and their owners and looked at the bacteria’s DNA fingerprints. Stenske found that 10 percent of dog-human pairs shared the same E. coli strains. She also found that the E. coli had more resistance to common antibiotics than expected, although the owners had more multiple-drug resistant strains than their pets.
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