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7 Ways Your Pet Could Be Making You Sick — and How to Fix Them

Cats and dogs are wonderful for their companionship, affection and unconditional love, but as much as we hate to admit it, they’re not always the easiest to live with. Behaviors like barking, pulling on the leash and scratching can cause stress and injury. Plus, simply being near a pet can bring on the sniffles or make you sick. Thankfully, many of those injuries and illnesses can be prevented.
Here are seven common ways cats and dogs can negatively impact your health — and what you can do to help fix them.

Your Cat’s Nighttime Adventures Are Ruining Your Sleep

You’re not the only one who tosses and turns at night while your cat runs around the room, scratches at the door or cries loudly. According to a recent study by the Mayo Clinic, 10 percent of pet-owning patients who visited the clinic’s sleep center reported that their pets disturbed their sleep. That may not seem significant, but in a similar study in 2002 by the Mayo Clinic, only 1 percent of pet-owning patients reported disturbed sleep from pets.
Thankfully, it is possible to get your cat on your sleeping schedule. Dr. Marty Becker recommends changing your cat’s mealtime from morning to night, making more time for play and adding enrichment to his environment with food puzzles, window perches and even cat videos. And if you want to stop your kitty from waking you up every morning, try ignoring her. When she realizes that she’s not getting any attention from you, chances are, she’ll eventually stop being such a reliable (and annoying) alarm clock.

You’re Hurt From Your Dog Pulling on the Leash

Walking with your dog can boost your health, but it can also cause injuries, according to multiple studies. One hospital in the United Kingdom recently reported 37 cases of injuries caused by dogs — and most of the injured were pulled over while walking, while others tripped on walks or were knocked over by their pets. Plus, a 2009 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report found that emergency rooms see an average of almost 87,000 fall-related injuries per year, and dogs cause nearly 88 percent of them. In addition, many of those fall-related injuries caused by dogs happened when pet owners were walking them. So really, it’s in your best interest to teach your dog to behave on a leash.
To help prevent leash pulling, train your pup to walk on a loose leash. When your dog pulls hard enough to make the leash tight, stop in place and don’t move forward until the leash is loose again. If he’s pulling to smell a bush or greet a dog, allow forward movement only while the leash is loose. Dogs are more likely to pull on back-clip harnesses and flat collars, so consider trying a front-clip harness or head halter instead.

Your Cat Is Scratching Your Hands

Are your hands covered in scratch and bite marks? You might be partially to blame. Many people use their hands to rile up and play with kittens. This might seem cute at first, but your kitten is going to grow up and have sharp teeth and claws. The behavior is even more troubling in light of a study published in The Journal of Hand Surgery that found that 30 percent of patients with cat bites on their hands were hospitalized. The researchers further noted, “Cat bite injuries to the hand can progress to serious infection. The treatment of such infections often requires hospitalization, intravenous antibiotic therapy and operative treatment.” Ouch!
To begin mending your cat’s behavior, stop using your hands to play with your cat. This may seem odd, but there are ways to engage without getting too close to the claws and teeth. Redirect your cat’s behavior by using items such as a feather teaser toy and food puzzles. Play with your cat a few times a day so he can burn off his excess energy. If you suspect your cat’s biting and scratching behavior is not out of play, get help from your veterinarian.

Your Dog’s Barking Is Stressing You Out

Have your neighbors had it up to their earlobes with your dog’s incessant barking? That’s enough to stress anyone out. When you yell, “Stop,” your pup thinks you’re barking along with him and will take that as encouragement to continue the behavior. Instead, teach him the quiet command. But first, you need to teach him to speak. Counterintuitive, we know.
Once your dog speaks when asked, immediately tell him to be quiet, then put a treat or toy near his nose. When he tries to eat or take the reward, he’ll stop barking. Once he’s quiet, praise him and give him a reward. If your dog barks out of fear or aggression, you’ve got a bigger issue. If that’s the case, the quiet command probably won’t work and you need to see your veterinarian.

You Feel Sick After Handling Your Dog’s Food

Pet food and treats don’t look very threatening, but they can increase your risk for salmonella poisoning. Data gathered by the CDC found that during a single year, 70 people got sick from handling pet food that contained salmonella.
According to the CDC, the easiest way to avoid getting sick from pet food is to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds immediately after handling any type of pet food. It’s also a good idea to regularly clean your animal’s food bowl with soap and hot water.

You (and Your Pet) Are Constantly Itching From Flea Bites

No matter how clean your cat or dog is, fleas can affect any pet. And once the annoying parasites get into your home, it’s tough to get them out. The best way to avoid fleas is to use a regular preventive medication. Talk to your vet to find out which flea preventive product is right for your pet. If you’re already infested with the creatures, contact your veterinarian for treatment, wash all pet bedding and thoroughly vacuum all carpets. You might even consider pet-safe indoor and outdoor insecticides.

You Have Pet Allergies and Can’t Stop Sniffling

An estimated 10 percent of the population is allergic to pets. So chances are, you or someone you know starts coughing or sneezing when a cat or dog is present. But as long as your pet allergies aren’t severe, keeping allergies at bay shouldn’t be a problem.

Contrary to popular belief, most people aren’t allergic to fur; the real culprit is pet dander. Simply washing your hands after petting your cat or dog will help remove those allergens. Weekly pet baths can also help. And put washable slipcovers on your furniture and launder them frequently. If necessary, consider taking over-the-counter antihistamines or ask your doctor about allergy shots.
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