Sandhya Madan (name changed on request), 52, works as an air-hostess with Air India, she was hospitalised for a week for a rare form of allergy earlier this month. The cause of the allergy, which left her breathless when she walked, was traced to her dog, a golden retriever she had got home a year ago from a friend getting treated for cancer.
“It began with sneezing, which I dismissed as a regular reaction to changes in the weather, but when the symptoms got worse, I decided to see a doctor. The first thing I was asked was if I had a pet at home,” said Madan. The hairy golden retriever was confirmed to be the trigger of her discomfort. It has already been two weeks since she was discharged and Madan is yet to get back to work.
“In this case, the pet was one of the contributing factors. We do see a lot of cases of respiratory distress, mild cough, sneezing, nasal blockage and air hunger, especially in the elderly that could be caused by pets at home,” said Dr Hemant Tiwari, senior consultant, department of pulmonology, Fortis, Vasant Kunj.
Apart from allergies, pets can cause some serious health conditions. For instance, doctors at BLK Hospital recently had to cut open a lung of a 45-year-old man to remove a large cyst that was actually a parasitic infection transmitted through pets.
“He had dog tapeworm, which is a common infection transmitted to humans through pets that manifests itself in the form of a cyst. Patients show the symptoms of a tumour such as pain and uneasiness,” said Dr Sushant Srivastava, director, cardiothoracic and vascular surgery at BLK.
The cyst was 7cm in diameter, and was taken out carefully so that it did not burst and cause fatal complications. Pets such as dogs and cats are carriers of tapeworms in their intestines and food contaminated with their faecal matter can infect humans.
The common belief that only eating pork causes cysts is not true. “Pets at home can be equally dangerous if good hygiene and cleanliness are not maintained,” said Dr Srivastava.
Doctors advise that people with compromised immunity — people aged over 70 years, those prone to infections and those undergoing cancer treatment —should have separate living spaces for their pets, preferably in the basements or the yards.
“If you must have a pet, then increase your knowledge of handling them, especially cats and dogs. Their washing and scrubbing should be done wearing gloves,” said Dr Tiwari.