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Putting pets to the test for bacteria

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Last February the Olbinski family grew by one. Their black Labrador puppy, Scout, changed their world for the better.

"We're much more patient about things," Krista Olbinski said.

"My house is a lot more loud. It's very loud. Louder than normal," Olbinski laughed.

She said she spends a lot more time cleaning, especially the floors. "Dogs bring in a lot of dirt," she added.

The Olbinskis agreed to let us put two of Scout's favorite things under the microscope to find out if any bacteria was identified. We swabbed Scout's blanket that stays on their family room couch and her tennis ball that she's constantly playing with.

"I am a little nervous," said Olbinski. "I might be a little more on edge."

We took the samples to the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene to test for the presence of bacteria.

"Something porous like a couch might be harder to grab the bacteria from, but that doesn't mean that there's not bacteria there," explained Terri Williams, a microbiologist for the Wisconsin Occupational Health Laboratory in the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene at UW-Madison.

That didn't turn out to be a problem though. Williams left the samples from the couch and tennis ball swabs in an incubator for four days, and both grew bacteria.

"The first set of plates we had ended up being the couch that we got a little bit of growth on," said Williams. Results show six colonies of bacteria grew.

"The second is the tennis ball," Williams continued. "We did get one colony that we can report, but quite a bit less than the couch itself."

There were some limitations to our test. While bacteria was discovered, the results did not show whether the bacteria was harmful or not. There also could have been more bacteria present that didn't like the testing and growth environment. Finally while Scout spends a lot of time with her blanket and tennis ball, and she is likely among the reasons the bacteria grew, there's no way to definitively say that the bacteria came from Scout.

Even if your pet is bringing bacteria into your house, it doesn't necessarily mean it'll make your family sick.

"Not all bacteria is bad. We're organisms, and we live symbiotically with bacteria. We've evolved that way," Williams said.

No matter if the bacteria came from Scout or not, she's part of the Olbinski family. "She's hard work, but we love her very much... I mean how much worse can it be than kids?" Olbinski joked.

Harvard medical professionals suggest the following ways to ensure your protection from anything potentially harmful from your pet:

  • Socialize your pets, so they're less likely to bite and scratch.
  • If you have any puncture wounds, swelling or redness from your pet, get medical help.
  • Make sure your pet is seeing the vet regularly, and they're caught up on vaccinations and medications, like flea and tick prevention.
  • Wash your hands after cleaning up any pet waste.

Caroline Bach

Anchor, 27 News at 11

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