Preventative Care for Therapy Dogs Interacting with Young Children

Humans derive many health benefits from interacting with animals.  Unfortunately, animals carry a few diseases that can be transmitted to people.  These zoonotic diseases are most common in young children who haven’t learned the importance of good hygiene.  I worry the most about toddlers who seem to put everything into their mouths.  Here are my recommendations for dog care to minimize the risk of zoonotic disease.  As the Center for Disease Control, National Center for Infectious Diseases states, “Healthy pets, healthy people.”      

1) Physical examinations by a licensed veterinarian twice a year to make sure the pet is free of health problems. 
2) Twice a year fecal analysis to check for gastrointestinal parasites. 
3) Use a monthly heartworm preventative that also kills gastrointestinal parasites.  Larva from the round worm of dogs (Toxocara canis) may infect humans.  Infectious eggs are ingested, mature into larva that swim through the blood stream to various parts of the body.  If a few are ingested, the disease is mild and self-limiting.  If a large number are ingested, the larva may cause damage to the liver, heart, lungs, brain, muscle or eyes.  More info at
4) Practice good flea and tick prevention.  Insects may carry diseases such as Lyme Disease or Tick Fever. 
5) Bathe as often as necessary to keep the dog clean and free of debris. 
6) Exercise dogs in areas away from the playground and pick up feces right away.   

One last word of caution, raccoons are often infected with an internal parasite called Baylisascaris.  The larva of this round worm migrate to the eyes, brain or other internal organs often killing the victim.  During parasitology, the instructor told us a tragic story about a boy who was infected at the playground of his school.  The raccoons defecated on the roof of the building.  The rain washed their feces onto the grass of his playground.  He ate grass contaminated with infectious eggs that matured into larva in his body.  The larva migrated to his brain.  Thanks to a quick diagnosis by his pediatrician, the child survived but has suffered severe brain damage.  More info at

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

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