Pets and Your Eyes

Pets and Your Eyes

Couple petting white dog

Pet owners agree: pets just make life better. Owning pets has been linked to stress reduction and longer lifespans. While owning a pet seems to be good for your overall health, there are a few things to know about pets and your eye health. In this blog we’ll discuss common eye conditions related to owning pets, and what you can do to protect your eyes.

Allergies

Pet dander can cause eye irritation known as Allergic Conjunctivitis. This can lead to red, watery, puffy, and itchy eyes. Fortunately, there are several medications available over-the-counter (OTC) to alleviate eye allergies. Allergy eye drops can soothe and prevent allergic reactions in eyes, and oral medications can reduce these symptoms as well as other common pet allergy symptoms. If OTC medications aren’t enough, talk to your eye doctor about prescription eye drops or oral medications. To learn more about allergies and your eyes, read our blog.

Injuries

Pets can be playful and clumsy, and accidental pet injuries are common. If you do get an eye injury from your pet, it is important to talk to your eye doctor. Even a small cut or abrasion on the eye can  allow bacteria to breed, leading to infection or scarring. 

Ammonia

Pet urine contains ammonia which can cause eye irritation even in low concentrations. It is important to clean up pet waste promptly and keep litter boxes clean. 

Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is a parasite sometimes found in cat feces. It can be contracted by eating food, drinking water, or accidentally swallowing soil that has been contaminated with infected cat feces. If the infection spreads to the eye, it can cause lesions on the retina, known as ocular toxoplasmosis. Pregnant women who are infected can pass the infection on to their unborn child, and 20-80% of congenitally-infected persons develop ocular lesions by adulthood. People who have weakened immune systems are at greater risk of infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the best ways to prevent toxoplasmosis infection from pets are:

  • Wear gloves when gardening and during any contact with soil or sand because it might be contaminated with cat feces that contain Toxoplasma. Wash hands with soap and water after gardening or contact with soil or sand.
  • Teach children the importance of washing hands to prevent infection.
  • Keep outdoor sandboxes covered.
  • Feed cats only canned or dried commercial food or well-cooked table food, not raw or undercooked meats.
  • Ensure that the cat litter box is changed daily. The Toxoplasma parasite does not become infectious until 1 to 5 days after it is shed in a cat’s feces.
  • If you are pregnant or immunocompromised:
    • Avoid changing cat litter if possible. If no one else can perform the task, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.
    • Keep cats indoors to prevent them from hunting and reduce the chances they will become infected with Toxoplasma.
    • Do not adopt or handle stray cats, especially kittens. Do not get a new cat while you are pregnant or immunocompromised.

Histoplasmosis

Histoplasmosis is a lung infection caused by inhaling spores of a fungus called Histoplasma capsulatum. Infection often occurs while sweeping chicken coops or working in fields where bird fertilizers are used. Once in the lungs, it is believed to spread through the bloodstream to the eyes, where it is known as Presumed Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome (POHS). POHS often develops without symptoms, but can cause small scars in the retina known as “histo spots”. Over time, these spots may develop abnormal blood vessel growth, leading to vision problems.  Anyone can be infected by histoplasmosis, however it is more prevalent in areas around the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys. People who keep chickens or other birds may be more likely to become infected. Those at greater risk for serious infection include people over age 65, people with weakened immune systems, and infants. It is difficult to completely eliminate the risk of histoplasmosis infection, but according to Mayo Clinic, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk:

  • Avoid exposure. Avoid projects and activities that might expose you to the fungus, such as cave exploring and raising birds, such as pigeons or chickens.
  • Spray contaminated surfaces. Before you dig soil or work in an area that could harbor the fungus that causes histoplasmosis, soak it with water. This can help prevent spores from being released into the air. Spraying chicken coops and barns before cleaning them also can reduce your risk.
  • Wear a respirator mask. Consult the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to determine which type of mask will provide protection for your level of exposure.

Toxocariasis

Toxocariasis is an infection caused by parasites that are commonly found in the intestinal tract of dogs and cats. According to the CDC, approximately 5% of the U.S. population has antibodies to Toxocara. This suggests that tens of millions of Americans may have been exposed to the Toxocara parasite. People can develop toxocariasis infection by accidentally ingesting dirt that has been contaminated. Many people who are infected do not develop symptoms, however the infection can spread to various organs in the body, including the eyes. Cases of ocular toxocariasis can cause retinal damage, inflammation, and loss of vision. According to the CDC, the best ways to prevent Toxocariasis infection are:

  • Take your pets to the veterinarian to prevent infection with Toxocara. Your veterinarian can recommend a testing and treatment plan for deworming.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after playing with your pets or other animals, after outdoor activities, and before handling food or eating.
  • Teach children the importance of washing hands to prevent infection.
  • Do not allow children to play in areas that are soiled with pet or other animal feces.
  • Clean your pet’s living area at least once a week. Feces should be either buried or bagged and disposed of in the trash. Wash your hands after handling pet waste.
  • Teach children that it is dangerous to eat dirt or soil.

Owning pets is a true source of joy and a great way to reduce stress. Eye related complications from owning pets are relatively rare, and knowledge is key to preventing illness and injury. The best way to keep yourself and your pets healthy is by getting regular veterinary care for your pets, and regular eye exams for yourself. To schedule an eye exam, call or text (907) 328-2920.

References:

Anna Rodriguez, Owning a dog can help you live longer, study suggests, USA Today, 2019, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2019/10/08/aha-journal-study-owning-dog-may-help-you-live-longer/3907770002/

The Power of Pets, NIH News in Health, 2018, https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/02/power-pets

Centers for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov

https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/disease.html

Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/histoplasmosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20373495

Written by: Gina Stafford COA, LDO, ABOC

Posted in: Eye Health Guide

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