Zoonotic Parasites: 4 Tips for Educating Pet Owners

While veterinarians know that zoonotic parasites are a risk to both pets and pet owners, pet owners might not realize the extent of these organisms' impact on their pets' health. Because of this, it's important for your team to educate pet owners on parasites, and let them know the dangers. Presenting this information may feel daunting as there is a lot to include, and it can be difficult to communicate it in a way that pet owners understand. Follow these four tips to help you and your team communicate with pet owners and educate them on zoonotic parasites.

1. Meet Them on Their Level

When educating pet owners about zoonotic parasites, keep in mind that different people have varying levels of knowledge about the topic—and some pet owners might not know anything about parasites or prevention. As such, tailor your communication to address the individual owner's understanding and concerns. Simplify your language, and avoid using jargon and technical terms that may cause confusion. Using visual aids when applicable—such as posters, leaflets, or diagrams—can help get crucial information across to pet owners. As you discuss the risks and preventive measures, connect the information that you're giving them back to their own health and the health of their families, to underscore the importance of preventive measures.

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2. Cover the Basics

No matter what level of understanding pet owners have, first define what zoonotic means. According to the World Health Organization, 'Zoonotic pathogens may be bacterial, viral or parasitic, or may involve unconventional agents and can spread to humans through direct contact or through food, water or the environment." Explain that zoonotic parasites are those that live in the digestive tract of animals and can be transmitted through their feces. Discuss how the types of parasites can vary based on geographical region, emphasizing the specific risks that are prevalent in your local area. You may demonstrate this using a regional prevalence map. This can make the information more relevant and encourage pet owners to take preventive measures seriously.

3. Emphasize Regular Fecal Testing & VBD Screening

One of the most important ways to prevent the transmission of zoonotic parasites is through regular preventive care include fecal antigen testing and vector-borne disease (VBD) screening. Remind pet owners that scheduling regular veterinary check-ups will ensure their pets are in the best health possible. Annual testing—including parasite testing—allows your practice to establish a baseline for each pet, and it increases the chances your team will catch any abnormalities during the exam. Discuss the importance of comprehensive testing with pet owners. Many parasites can be present in their pet's feces even if they are not showing any clinical signs, and detecting tick-borne disease in your area can help others stay informed of the risks. Provide owners with directions on how and when to collect and submit their pet's fecal sample.

4. Utilize Different Communication Methods

To reach and engage with pet owners, it's important to use a variety of communication channels. This includes an in-person discussion during their annual or semiannual wellness appointment at a minimum, but also consider other ways you can share this information with them. This may include email or text reminders, posts on social media, newsletters, blog posts on your practice website, or informative posters in waiting areas, as well as utilizing all members of the team. Content could include helpful tips on how they can protect their pet and family, such as picking up and disposing of their pet's stools regularly, handwashing, and covering sandboxes.

Zoonotic parasites are a significant risk for pet owners and their pets. And while prevention may not be 100% effective, regular fecal testing is the best way to prevent transmission, so it's important to educate pet owners on its benefits. By working together, your practice can help prevent the spread of zoonotic disease and keep both your clients and their pets healthy and happy.

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Laura Sullivan

Laura Sullivan qualified from the Royal Veterinary College in 2009 and is an experienced small animal veterinary surgeon. In practice, she has performed various roles, including associate veterinarian, locum veterinarian, and clinical director. Alongside her clinical work, entrepreneur Laura is on a mission to help veterinary and healthcare professionals become more sustainable. She founded 'All Scrubbed Up Scrub Hats' - a small business creating bespoke eco friendly, reusable scrub hats for the veterinary, dental, and healthcare heroes of the world. The views and opinions in this piece are the authors own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of either The Vetiverse or IDEXX.

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