Animal urine if often considered an issue of cleanliness, but the urine of household pets also poses health risks to humans, particularly children. The urine of pets such as dogs and cats is usually harmless when it is properly disposed of or kept outside the home, but in cases where excess urine is left indoors on furniture, floors or untended litter boxes, the health risks range from temporary irritations to significant infections.
Risks of Pet Urine
The urine of most household pets, including dogs and cats, is composed primarily of water, but the additional organic compounds found in animal waste can pose a health threat to children. One of the organic compounds in animal urine is ammonia, a compound which, in high enough quantities, can be toxic. In addition to the naturally occurring components of animal urine, the waste also has the potential to transfer bacteria to children, especially to children who are of crawling age and spend significant time on the floor where the urine is likely to be accessible.
Though pet dander is often cited as a trigger for childhood asthma, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also note that animal urine can be an allergic irritant. Proteins in animal dander that trigger allergic or asthmatic reactions are also present in animal urine and waste, and exposure to high levels of these proteins can cause asthmatic or allergic responses in children. Reducing an allergic or asthmatic child's exposure to both urine and pet dander through thorough and regular cleaning is essential to reducing the risk of potentially serious reactions.
Zoonotic diseases are illnesses with the potential to be passed between humans and animals, including household pets. Several zoonotic diseases are transmitted through exposure to an animal's urine. One such disease is leptospirosis, which is typically transmitted from an infected dog to humans during accidental consumption of water contaminated by the infected animal urine. Children are particularly at risk for contracting the disease if infected household pets have urinated on toys that often end up in children's mouths. Leptospirosis causes flu-like symptoms in children, and, left untreated, can cause serious complications with the kidneys, liver and brain.
In addition to infections and allergies, exposure to animal urine can also cause temporary or chronic respiratory irritation in children. Ammonia, a primary organic compound in animal urine, is known to cause irritation in people's eyes and lungs when the concentration in the air reaches 50 part per million, according to the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium. In cases of animal hoarding, which results in significant exposure to animal urine, the consortium reports that some ammonia levels have exceeded 150 ppm. Young children, especially those with compounding issues like asthma, are at risk for developing chronic respiratory infections and irritations without a properly vented living space that reduces ammonia concentration.
- Massachusetts Department of Public Health: Leptospirosis Fact Sheet
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Healthy Housing Reference Manual Indoor Air Pollutants and Toxic Materials
- The Hoarding of Animals Research Coalition: Animal Hoarding
- New York State Department of Public Health: The Facts About Ammonia
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