After the tragedies of September 11, 2001, Americans are more conscious than ever of our vulnerability to terror attacksincluding the potential use of chemical and biological agents. We've compiled the information and resources that pet owners can use to understand the dangers that their companions may face from bioterrorism.
What kinds of chemical/biological agents are particularly dangerous to pet animals? Could anything contagious be spread between my family and my pets?
Chemicals that are considered toxic to people can also be hazardous to animals. Biological agents that cause disease in both people and animals are called zoonoses or zoonotic diseases. Some examples of naturally occurring zoonoses are rabies and salmonellosis. Species-specific agents such as smallpox can only cause illness in humans.
What are the signs that my pet has come in contact with a toxic agent?
Symptoms will vary, not only with the specific substance involved, but also with the amount and duration of exposure to that substance. Animal species often vary in their susceptibility to chemical and biological agents, and may also display very different signs and symptoms. Regardless of the suspected cause of the illness, however, a veterinarian should evaluate any sick animal.
If my pet comes into contact with a biological or chemical agent, what should I do?
Hazardous substances on an animal's coat may be a potential health risk to any person who comes in contact with that animal. Blood, vomit, and other bodily fluids should also be avoided. Once any existing medical problems have been addressed and it has been determined that the pet is stable, bathing and other decontamination procedures may be best performed by trained veterinary professionals using appropriate protective equipment, such as gowns, gloves, and eye protection.
How can I safeguard my home and my pets against chemical and biological agents?
Measures to protect animals are similar to those taken to protect people. Preparedness is the best way to help ensure both human and animal safety when disaster strikes. Links to many excellent resources are listed below.
The American Veterinary Medical Association's Disaster Preparedness Series lists the following available materials:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Emergency Preparedness & Response guide includes information on chemical and biological agents and radiation
The Environmental Protection Agency offers the following resources: