Can Your Pet Make You Sick?
Zoonotic illnesses are diseases humans can get from animals. Many infectious diseases can spread from animals to people, and some of these can come from your pet. But before you become too alarmed, know that getting diseases from a pet is pretty uncommon, and that you can prevent most of them with some very simple steps. For example, teach children not to kiss pets or put their hands in their mouths after touching them. Frequent hand washing and regular vet checks are two other great ways to help prevent a wide range of diseases from pets. This includes diseases from dogs, diseases from cats, diseases from birds, or diseases from reptiles.
Zoonotic Illnesses You Can Get from Your Pet
These are a few of the more common diseases you might get from your pet. People with weak immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, may be more vulnerable than healthy individuals and should take special care.
Caused by a virus and spread through bites, rabies is a disease that affects the nervous system and is generally fatal. Early signs may be fever or headache. This can quickly develop into symptoms of confusion, sleepiness, or agitation. Although rabies can be spread from pets such as a dog or cat, you are more likely to get it from a wild animal.
Reduce the risk of rabies:
- Keep your pet's vaccinations up to date.
- Do what you can to prevent your pet having contact with wild animals.
- Have animal control remove any stray animals. Don't try to care for them yourself.
- Tell your doctor right away if an animal bites you.
Caused by a protozoan organism, toxoplasmosis may cause flu-like symptoms in some people. If you're pregnant or getting ready to become pregnant, it is particularly important to be aware of this disease, as it can infect a fetus and cause a miscarriage or serious birth defect. You are most likely to get toxoplasmosis from eating partially cooked meat or from contact with animal feces while gardening. But you can also get it from contact with contaminated cat feces. It is important to change a cat's litter box daily; if it is cleaned within a 24-hour period, it is likely not infective.
Reduce the risk of toxoplasmosis:
- Avoid direct contact with kitty litter or areas that may be contaminated by cat feces.
- Wash hands after contact with litter.
- If you are pregnant or have a weak immune system, have another family member clean and change kitty litter daily while wearing gloves. Also, keep your cat indoors to reduce its risk of infection.
- Don't feed your cat raw or undercooked meat, and avoid it yourself.
Cat scratch disease (bartonellosis)
This bacterial disease is spread from cat to cat by fleas, but people usually become infected from a cat scratch or bite. If you develop cat scratch disease, you may develop a mild infection and flu-like symptoms or more serious problems such as damage to the valves in the heart.
Reduce the risk of cat scratch disease:
- Do what you can to control fleas on your pets and in your home.
- Avoid play that might lead to cat scratches or bites.
- Don't allow your cat to lick any open wounds you have.
- Wash cat bites and scratches right away with soap and water.
- See your doctor if you develop an infection at the site of a cat bite or scratch.
Hookworm and roundworm
These are intestinal parasites routinely found in dogs and cats, particularly kittens and puppies. The worms’ eggs or larvae are passed from pets through stool. You can pick up hookworms through your skin from walking barefoot or playing outside. A young child might also accidentally eat the worm eggs, which may lead to roundworm.
Hookworm infection can cause painful and itchy skin infections or abdominal symptoms. Roundworm infections may cause no symptoms but can cause nerve or eye damage in some people.
Reduce the risk of roundworms and hookworms:
- Don't walk barefoot or garden in areas with bare hands.
- Teach children to always wash their hands after touching a dog or cat or playing outside.
- Have your kittens and puppies dewormed by the vet.
Dogs and cats can pick up tapeworm by eating a flea that has been infected. Most human tapeworm infections arise from ingestion of contaminated meats, but children may pick up tapeworm by accidentally swallowing a flea infected with tapeworm larvae. Tapeworm segments may show up in stool or around the anal area on a pet or human. These segments look a little like grains of rice.
Reduce the risk of tapeworms:
- Control fleas on your pet and in the environment.
- Seek treatment for your pet right away if you see signs of tapeworms.
Not really a worm, ringworm is caused by a fungal infection within the top layer of the skin. It is very contagious and dogs, cats, horses, other animals, and humans can pass ringworm to humans. You can also get it from touching surfaces that an infected pet or person has touched. On skin, ringworm causes a ring-shaped, reddish rash that may be dry and scaly or wet and crusty. It may also be itchy.
- On the scalp, it can cause temporary baldness.
- On nails, it can cause thickening, discoloring, and brittle texture.
- On feet, (called athlete's foot), it can cause scaliness and cracking, especially between the toes.
Ringworm is more likely if you have been sweating a lot or had a minor injury. Although it's difficult to prevent, ringworm responds well to self-care and treatment.
Reduce the risk of ringworm. If a pet or family member has ringworm:
- Make sure they get treated. For family members, apply an over-the-counter antifungal.
- Consult your doctor if the lesions are extensive or do not improve rapidly with topical treatment.
- Consult your veterinarian if skin lesions are found on your pets.
- Wash sheets and pajamas of the infected family member every day.
- Avoid direct contact until the ringworm is gone. And, keep animals off your bed.
- Keep your skin clean and dry.
Caused by bacteria, salmonella infection most often results from eating contaminated food. But pets can spread it, too, by not cleaning one's hands thoroughly after handling 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.
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
- 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.
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:
If you have questions about other diseases, be sure to have a conversation with your doctor or vet.