Avoiding an Outbreak

When it comes to dealing with zoonotic disease, education and prevention are key.


Zoonotic disease education and prevention is extremely important, and as an industry, we are in a unique position to address it by communicating within the industry or, if necessary, getting the word out to the public about what it is and how to help prevent it. Pets can carry germs that make people sick, especially in high-risk groups such as young children, the elderly and those with weaker immune systems. A zoonotic disease is a disease that can be passed between animals and humans and can be caused by viruses, parasites or bacteria. They can affect most companion pets—dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and small animals such as rodents, rabbits and ferrets. 

The health and safety of pets and pet owners is of the utmost importance to the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC). It’s so important that PIJAC created a special zoonotic committee to proactively address these issues. The committee is chaired by well-respected veterinarian Dr. Tom Edling, vice president of veterinary medicine at Petco. Other members include representatives from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), state health departments, industry animal experts and the international animal community. They work closely with government and non-government entities so in the event of an outbreak, PIJAC can help notify the pet industry so swift action can be taken to remedy the problem and prevent further spread of the disease. 

As the number of households with pets increases, so does the threat of zoonotic disease. On its website, the CDC lists over 60 infections that can be spread from pets to humans (cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases). Among these are rabies, salmonella, LCMV, canine influenza, Lyme disease, avian influenza, rat bite fever and ringworm.

Prevention is the key in helping to keep these diseases from spreading. Retailers can help by getting the word out that a few simple precautions can usually protect against zoonotic diseases—things such as washing hands with soap and water after handling animals, never using the same sink area for food-preparation as you do for cleaning your animals, their cages and toys, and thoroughly disinfecting immediately after any “accidents.”

To help retailers promote zoonotic prevention, the PIJAC Zoonotic committee has developed resources that are downloadable from the PIJAC website (pijac.org). These include posters on safe handling of reptiles and amphibians, as well as aquarium tank stickers and a series of disease prevention flyers that address specific precautions to take for different animals. All of these materials are great for schools with classroom pets, as well as for retailers or any other business that involves animals, to educate and promote preventative care when handling animals. Along with these, the committee has also developed some best management practices (BMPs) that deal with general husbandry matters and disease prevention. The committee recently published two sets of BMPs—one for feeder rodent facilities, breeders and distributors, and the other for reptile and amphibian expo promoters, vendors and staff.

Notification of outbreaks is also an important component of prevention. To this end, the PIJAC Zoonotic committee has partnered with government agencies so that PIJAC can notify the pet industry through targeted health alerts in the unlikely event of a disease outbreak so it can be addressed quickly. For example, in April 2015, the committee became aware of a high incidence of canine influenza in the Chicago area, and PIJAC put out a Pet Industry Health Alert outlining the facts about what canine influenza is, what symptoms pet owners should be on the lookout for and how to protect dogs.

The committee is currently in the process of developing an internal set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for a zoonotic situation response in the event that an outbreak occurs. This comprehensive set of procedures will provide guidance for the committee and PIJAC staff to accurately and consistently provide information to the industry on emergency zoonotic issues impacting PIJAC members, the pet trade and the public in a timely manner. 

While there are undeniably far more health benefits to owning a pet than there are risks, common sense precautions should still be taken. Education and prevention are the keys. PIJAC wants to make sure information and resources are available to help you spread the word. For more information on the PIJAC Zoonotic committee’s initiatives, and to access many downloadable resources, visit the Zoonotic Prevention Resource page under the Animal Welfare and Programs tab on the PIJAC website.

Nancy Knutson is director of industry and member relations for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. Anyone interested in learning more can email Knutson at nancy@pijac.org.


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