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Overly affectionate pet owners increase risk from drug-resistant bugs

Pet owners are being warned that treating their animal like a human can seriously damage their health.

New research conducted by Glasgow's Caledonian University has highlighted the potential risks in being over-affectionate with domestic pets.

Whilst they acknowledge and encourage the bond between an owner and pet, researchers recommend limits on physical interaction.

The danger is posed by the transfer of antibiotic-resistant bugs and carries a risk for humans and animals alike.

The study recommends that pet owners and vets administer fewer drugs to their animals so that bacteria are less able to build up resistance.

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Image: Health psychologist and dog owner Dr Adele Dickson led the research

Dr Adele Dickson, a health psychologist who led the study, told Sky News: "The research is showing how big the problem of antibiotic resistance is more generally, but this particular study looks at a very small part of that bigger picture.

"We are particularly interested in the affectionate relationship that pet owners have with their pets and the risk that could pose for antibiotic resistance within the family environment.

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"We know that risk is relatively low, so we're not trying to suggest that pet owners stop showing affection to their pets, or stop enjoying their pets, but there are small and simple things that we can do within the home environment and in our interactions with pets that could make a huge difference in fighting the risk of antibiotics resistance."

Dr Dickson, who owns a pet two-year-old golden retriever, studied the behaviours of the owners of cats, dogs and rabbits. The research found that affectionate behaviours between companion animals were so deeply treasured that they were unlikely to change.

It's findings did, however, make recommendations:

:: Avoid kissing pets on the mouth
:: Don't let them pets lick your mouth or nose
:: Pet owners should wash hands after stroking animals, particularly before meals
:: Make sure pets eat from their own bowls and don't use household utensils

The over-prescription and incorrect use of antibiotics is the main cause of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in humans and animals.

The attitude of pet owners on visiting the vet's surgery is seen as part of the issue.

Dr Tim Nuttall, of Edinburgh University's Royal Dick Vet School, told Sky News: "When a pet owner takes an animal to the vet, they are often very worried and because an animal can't talk it's more difficult to understand what the symptoms are.

Sometimes there can be this sense of responsibility that we don't want to make a mistake and owners can say 'well, I'd like an antibiotic just in case it's an infection'.

"This puts the vet in an awkward position – they feel they ought to, then, prescribe the antibiotic to keep the owner happy and reassure them. Where owners can help is in by not asking for these drugs up front and listening to, and trusting, their vet."

Researchers do point out the number of animals harbouring drug-resistant bugs is very low – less than less than one percent of healthy pets at last count.

But they stress that increasing the risk isn't a risk worth taking.

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