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One Health: Why our well-being is tied to our pets’

October 29, 2018

Health is much bigger than ourselves. And it starts with our pets.

If you think about health, is this just about yourself? Or is it also about the health of those around you? And does this include your animal companions as well?

These questions lie at the heart of One Health. It’s a way of thinking about health that focuses on the interconnectedness of ecosystems – particularly between owners and their pets. Because we form a close relationship with our pets, what happens to one, might also affect the other. We must understand this.

Our pets provide us with joy, comfort and emotional support. So it’s vital that we look after them. What’s more, if we fail to look out for their health, this might affect us in more ways than we expect. One Health addresses this connection, by promoting a wider, more organic approach to animal and human health – one that works for all of us.

People who live in households with dogs could be 15% less likely to die of heart disease

Puppy love: the health benefits of having animals around

An increasing number of people around the world have pets at home. The reasons are easy to understand: having a pet brings emotional and physical benefits – they are your best friend, a member of the family, a furry shoulder to cry on.

This isn’t just fluffy sentiment – it’s backed up by hard stats. For instance, did you know that having a dog in your house means that you could be 15% less likely to die of heart disease? Or that pets have been found to be of key help in managing long-term mental health issues?

Protecting our pet’s health is not optional

However, as anyone who’s owned an animal knows, maintaining a healthy relationship between pet and human takes work. While a healthy pet can be an indispensable friend, an unhealthy pet needs our help and support. And not working to advance pet well-being can also pose a risk to owners.

More than 60% of infectious diseases that infect humans are zoonotic, or diseases that can be passed between animals and humans.

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Lyme disease is one such condition that both dogs and humans can contract from bites from infected ticks. Lyme cases have more than doubled in the past 30 years and there are a significant number of countries worldwide that are deemed high risk. However, bites from infected ticks can be prevented in dogs and cats by using flea and tick medication like a long-acting collar or spot-on. But, Lyme disease is not the only zoonotic diseases that impacts all the members of our family.

Cat scratch fever, for example, is a cold-like condition that can be caught from cats infected with the Bartonella henselae bacteria, most probably acquired via a flea infection. Around 40% of cats carry the bacteria at some point in their lives, without showing any clinical signs. Once again, there is a simple solution at hand: protection from fleas using preventative medications.

Leishmaniasis is a serious disease for both people and animals (particularly dogs) that is spread via infected sandflies. Preventing disease transmission to dogs is an important step to also reducing the risk for humans and can be readily achieved through licensed products.

These are not major requirements – they are readily available forms of preventative medicine that can make all the difference between a happy pet and an environment that benefits no-one.

“There is no dividing line between animals and humans"

– Norbert Mencke, Head of Policy and Stakeholder Affairs at Bayer

From reaction to prevention

This is the essence of One Health – that looking after your pets isn’t just good for them: it’s good for both animal and human ecosystems. It’s one healthcare ecology, for both human and animal.

In practice, this means a unified approach, bringing together vets, doctors, pet owners, and even government policy, so that everyone has the information and abilities they need to take the preventative steps towards a happy and healthy co-existence.

“There is no dividing line between animals and humans,” says Norbert Mencke, Head of Policy and Stakeholder Affairs at Bayer. “Which means that the perspectives of other professionals, such as biologists, environmentalists or economists, should also be included to get the necessary holistic, One Health approach to health.” 

And this is at the heart of the One Health approach to well-being. By shifting our thinking and awareness around how we stay healthy. By looking beyond our own bodies, we benefit not only ourselves but our pets and the greater world.

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