Dog under blanketThere’s no question that pets bring joy, laughter, and a depth of feeling to our lives that is hard to find anywhere else. Unfortunately, they can occasionally bring illness in the form of zoonotic diseases, as well.

A zoonotic disease is one that can be passed from animals to people, or vice versa. Dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, birds, cattle, pigs, rodents and wild animals can all potentially spread disease to humans. Fortunately, even though there are over one hundred known zoonotic diseases in the world at large, most are not found in the United States, thanks to good hygiene and modern veterinary care.

Even though your chances of catching a disease from your pet are low, it’s important to understand the risks associated with zoonotic diseases and how you can protect yourself and your family.

Zoonotic Diseases Can Be Transmitted from Pets to People

MRSA – It’s rare for pets to contract MRSA, but it does happen occasionally, and it can put their owners at risk. Pets with an active MRSA infection can transmit it to people by direct contact or through contact with contaminated items, such as bedding. The bacteria tends to colonize near the nose and anus on infected pets, so be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after touching pets or picking up pet waste (even after using using a pet waste bag or rubber gloves).

Toxoplasmosis – Cats are the primary host for the parasite that causes Toxoplasmosis. The disease is generally not a concern for people with a healthy immune system, but it can be devastating for those with weakened immune systems, for unborn children of infected mothers, as well as for small children and the elderly. Always use rubber gloves when handling cat waste and wash your hands thoroughly, especially, if you are in an at-risk group. Cleaning the litter box daily can decrease risk of infection.

Sepsis – Sepsis, or blood poisoning, can be caused by a common bacteria that lives inside the mouths of dogs. It’s rare for a person with a healthy immune system to contract sepsis from a dog but, if your immune system is in a weakened state, play it safe and avoid letting your dog lick your face or lips.

Rabies – Rabies is generally associated with wildlife, but any animal can contract rabies, including, pets and humans through a bite or scratch from an infected animal.

Leptospirosis – Dogs with Leptospirosis can become very ill, even to the point of experiencing kidney or liver failure. The bacteria that causes Leptospirosis is spread through the urine of an infected animal — usually a deer, rabbit or other wildlife — and resides in soil and water. While it’s possible to catch this disease from an infected pet, most cases of human Leptospirosis result from water recreation or exposure to contaminated soil.

Tularemia – Also called “rabbit fever”, Tularemia can be transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick or deerfly, or by handling an infected live or dead animal.

Intestinal parasites – Worms that can live inside your pet, including hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, among others, can be passed to people. Making sure your pet is current on his or her parasite preventives is key to avoiding transmission.

Mange – It is possible for sarcoptic mange to spread from pets to people, although it’s rare in the developed world. When passed to humans, mange causes a red, bumpy rash.

Protecting Yourself and Your Loved Ones

This list is somewhat concerning, but there’s no reason for alarm. By adhering to the following tips, you can greatly reduce your risk of contracting a zoonotic disease from your pet:

  • Make sure your pet is current on all required vaccinations.
  • Keep your pet on parasite preventive medications year-round.
  • Bring your pet in for its annual and semi-annual wellness exams.
  • Practice good hygiene; wash hands after handling pets or pet waste and regularly clean pet bedding and any surfaces your pet comes in contact with, including, pillows, blankets, and area rugs.
  • Wear protective gloves when gardening or working around soil and standing water outdoors, and wash hands afterwards.
  • Be sure to keep any cuts or wounds on your skin properly protected.
  • Avoid letting your pet lick you or your children on the face or lips.
  • Keep your pet and children away from wildlife, alive or dead.
  • If your pet’s eating, drinking, sleeping, or elimination habits have changed, or you just suspect something is wrong, bring your pet in to see us. Problems are usually easier and less expensive to treat when caught early on and, you’ll have the peace of mind in ensuring that your pet isn’t in pain or suffering.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center with your questions or concerns regarding your pet and zoonotic diseases.