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Protecting Our Pets Through Research, Technology, and the National Pet Health Survey

Published July 30, 2018

Summer is a time for sun, fun, and cooling off at the local swimming hole. But as we enjoy the season, it’s good to keep in mind that warmer temperatures can increase our potential for exposures or illnesses that impact our health and well-being, as well as that of our animal friends and family members.

EPA researcher Marsha Morgan and her dog Jesse. EPA researcher Marsha Morgan and her dog Jesse.EPA scientists are helping prevent pets from being exposed to harmful contaminants and infectious agents. For example, innovative research using satellite data from the Cyanobacteria Assessment Network, along with increased water monitoring, can help warn the public when they may need to take steps to keep themselves and their pets safe from harmful algal blooms. Early notice of harmful toxins in your local waterways can decrease the chance of exposure and keep everyone—pets included—a little safer!

EPA researchers are also working to understand companion pet health, and how it might relate to the health of pet owners. Companion animals can have a direct beneficial effect on their owner’s health and well-being, but they can also be important sentinels of adverse environmental conditions in and around our homes. Some diseases—called zoonoses--can make both animals and people sick. Because our pets may be more readily exposed – by drinking contaminated water for instance – these types of illnesses may show up in pets before we see effects in people.

EPA researchers Megan Mehaffey, Marsha Morgan, and Jessica Daniel are collaborating with organizations such as the One Health Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to explore potential trends in the health of pet cats and dogs across the U.S. 

The One Health Commission is a globally-focused organization that promotes improved health of people, domestic animals, wildlife, plants, and the environment. Working with EPA, the Commission is using citizen science and crowd-sourcing tools to collect important data from the public about disease and health issues occurring in pet dogs and cats. One of these tools is the National Pet Health Survey.Exit

EPA researcher Megan Mehaffey with her dogs Bonnie and ClydeEPA researcher Megan Mehaffey with her dogs Bonnie and Clyde.The purpose of the survey is to explore pet health in relation to their environmental exposures and any potential links to human health. This work revolves around the concept of OneHealth, which is the idea that humans and animals share the same environments and our safety and health are interrelated. We influence our pets by the care we give them, the places we go, and the homes they live in, and they influence us by the comfort they provide, the work they do, and unfortunately sometimes, the diseases we share.

The survey will provide large amounts of information about geographic differences in the occurrence of common health issues and diseases. EPA researchers will pair this information with ecological variables from the EnviroAtlas project to look at linkages to environmental condition. EPA’s EnviroAtlas is a set of online interactive map tools and resources that can be used to explore the benefits people receive from nature. 

Anyone with access to a computer, tablet or phone can take the survey.  The short online survey asks for specific types of data on people's pets such as cancers, diabetes, asthma, and tick-borne illnesses. The survey also collects other related data such as the pets' sex, age, breed, weight, and whether they live indoors or outdoors. The survey was launched in October 2017 and will remain open until January 20, 2020, or until the maximum number of respondents (300,000) has filled out the survey, whichever comes first.

EPA researcher Jessica Daniel's cat, PintoEPA researcher Jessica Daniel's cat, Pinto.

The results from the survey will hopefully shed light on health and disease issues across the U.S., and provide scientists, concerned pet owners, and the public with a free, informational database for further exploration. Combining the survey results within EnviroAtlas will also allow for identifying spatial differences in pet health that have potential association with the environmental indicators in EnviroAtlas. The goal of the survey is to provide an extensive set of pet health data which can be shared with other researchers, partners, and the public to improve the air we breathe, the water we drink, and our surrounding environment.

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