Q. I run a daycare center in my home and have a Boxer named Grinder, and I wonder if Grinder can pick up things from my children? Sometimes when my children are passing around a virus it seems as if Grinder does not feel the best either! Am I nuts?
When he is around them he is always right there in the middle of them stealing cookies and being played on and playing dress up! Is there something I can do to help his immune system fight any of the bugs the kids bring in the house?
A. Ten years ago, the idea of dogs and people passing viruses back and forth seemed far-fetched. Now, there are documented reports of dogs catching the H1N1 virus from their human owners. So far, there are no reports of the virus going back the other way, from dogs to people.
In the few cases that have been studied in dogs, the dogs have shown signs of an upper respiratory infection (coughing, discharge from the nose, fever), but have recovered. Unfortunately, there is one report of a cat that died after catching H1N1 from its owners.
Children are more at risk for catching diseases from dogs or other pets, and also for getting bitten by a dog. In general, encouraging good hand washing and hygiene is the best way to prevent passage of viral disease from children to dogs (and possibly the other way). Children should wash their hands thoroughly after petting dogs, especially before they eat.
In addition to infectious diseases such as viruses and bacteria, dogs potentially transmit parasites such as roundworm, or fungal infections such as ringworm. Although it is tempting, children should not allow dogs to lick their faces, for the reasons named above.
The risk of rabies in the United States is close to zero, but any dog that spends time with children should have a well-documented record of rabies vaccination, in order to alleviate legal complications in the event of an inadvertent bite incident. This certainly can happen with a small group of rambunctious children and an active, albeit friendly, dog.