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Diseases You Can Get From Your Pets: Worms, Rabies, and More

Zoonotic Illnesses You Can Get from Your Pet continued...


Caused by bacteria, salmonella infection most often results from eating contaminated food. But pets can spread it, too, through their feces. Reptiles such as lizards, snakes, and turtles are likely sources of this infection, as well as chicks and ducklings. Dogs, cats, birds, and horses may also carry it. If you become infected, signs and symptoms may include stomach pain, diarrhea, and fever.

Reduce the risk of salmonella:

  • Always wash hands with soap and water after contact with animal feces or with reptiles and the surfaces they've touched.
  • If you have a weak immune system, avoid any contact with reptiles, chicks, and ducklings.

Psittacosis (Parrot Fever)

This is a bacterial infection that you can get from breathing in dried feces or respiratory tract fluids from infected birds. This includes parrots, parakeets, macaws, and cockatiels. It may be hard to detect this infection in birds because they often don't have symptoms. This makes prevention more difficult.

Reduce the risk of parrot fever:

  • Avoid purchasing a bird with signs of infection. This includes eye or nasal discharge, diarrhea, or low body weight.
  • Change papers daily and regularly disinfect the bird's cage, but in a well-ventilated area. Diluted bleach (for example, ½ cup of bleach in a gallon of water) should do the trick. Or, ask your vet for a safe, effective antibacterial to use.
  • If you suspect your bird may be sick, see a vet right away.

Call your doctor if you develop flu-like or respiratory symptoms after having a sick bird. If you come down with psittacosis, your experience may range from no symptoms at all to severe respiratory symptoms.

Lyme disease

Your pet can't transmit Lyme disease to you directly. But you can get it from ticks your dog or outdoor cat picks up. Ticks carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, which may cause no obvious symptoms. Or, it may cause:

  • A bull's-eye rash at the site of tick attachment
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle or joint pain

Without treatment, Lyme disease can become a chronic condition over time, causing nerve and heart inflammation, mental changes, and pain.

Reduce the risk of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses:

  • Avoid tick-infested areas, especially in spring and summer.
  • Use veterinary-approved tick preventives on your pet and apply insect repellant with DEET on yourself when in areas with ticks.
  • Wear light clothing and cover legs and arms when hiking.
  • Remove ticks as soon as you can to help reduce chances of infection.
  • Dispose of ticks by wrapping them in a paper towel and placing this in a plastic bag. Never crush the tick as this can release dangerous bacteria into the air.

Illnesses You Cannot Get from Your Pet

Although there are several infectious diseases you can get from your pet, there are many more that are not naturally transmitted from pets to humans. Because pets can get diseases that are similar to those humans get, you may wonder if you can get them from your pet.

Here are some infections that sound similar to human diseases but which you cannot get from your pet:

  • Feline leukemia
  • Canine influenza
  • Feline herpes

If you have questions about other diseases, be sure to have a conversation with your doctor or vet.

WebMD Veterinary Reference

Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on March 25, 2013

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