Owners love sharing with their pets—the couch, the bed, outdoor activities, and sometimes a bite of food. Pets share too, through their affection, toys, and occasionally a special prize left on the doorstep. However, they may have a giving heart, but their gifts of dead mice or moles are seldom appreciated.
Diseases that pets can “gift” people by sharing bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi are also not appreciated, although your pet certainly does not intend to cause you harm. Fortunately, many zoonotic diseases can be prevented with basic hygiene and proper veterinary care. WesVet Animal Hospital is passionate about preventive medicine, and a large part of prevention is owner education. Informed pet owners protect not only pet health, but also human health.
An infectious disease that can be passed from animals to humans is called a zoonotic disease, or zoonosis. Zoonoses are passed through ingestion, inhalation, or close contact of broken skin to contaminated pet urine or feces, saliva, or wound discharge. Young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are the most susceptible to zoonotic diseases.
This information is not comprehensive, but a guide to the most common risks facing pet owners. Always discuss specific concerns and preventive measures with your veterinarian. The most common zoonoses are transmitted by parasites and bacteria.
Parasitic zoonoses and prevention
Parasitic zoonoses are transmitted when the parasitic eggs are shed in the feces of infected cats and dogs. The eggs are then ingested from contaminated hands or infected soil. These parasites include:
- Toxoplasma gondii
Other parasitic zoonoses are transmitted through skin contact:
- Sarcoptes scabiei (i.e., scabies mites)
You can take several easy precautions to help prevent your pet from passing parasitic infections to you.
- Basic hygiene — Wash your hands after interacting with animals or handling urine, feces, or food bowls.
- Prevention — Many products we recommend also contain a dewormer. Keep your pet on flea and tick prevention to prevent tapeworm infection in your pet.
- Testing — Confirm the absence of parasites or their eggs by testing your pet’s stool every six months.
Bacterial zoonoses and prevention
Bacterial zoonoses take more varied transmission routes. Salmonella and Campylobacter can be directly transmitted from birds or reptiles, as well as cats and dogs, while leptospirosis is found most commonly in wildlife urine. Tick and flea-borne diseases such as the following are brought indirectly to humans on the backs of pets.
- Lyme disease, which is transmitted only indirectly by dogs and cats, who can bring home ticks that can then attach to humans
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever also can be passed to humans when pets transport ticks
Countless other bacterial diseases can move between pets and people, especially from pet birds and reptiles, so practicing strict hygiene is extremely important.
- Hygiene — Wash your hands thoroughly after handling pets, or cleaning their cages, and consider wearing gloves when removing urine or feces.
- Outdoors —Do not eat or drink in areas where farm animals, reptiles, or birds are housed. Also, keep pets away from wildlife scat and urine.
- Prevention — Prevent fleas and ticks by keeping your dog or cat current on prevention medications.Also, talk to your veterinarian about the leptospirosis vaccine if your dog is frequently outdoors or in wooded areas.
Beware rabies in pets and people
Perhaps the most infamous and feared zoonotic disease, rabies is a lethal virus that attacks the nervous system and progresses to the brain and salivary glands. The disease is spread when an infected animal or bat bites and breaks the skin, and passes on their saliva. No treatment for animals with rabies is currently available, and most pets with a possible diagnosis are humanely euthanized. Post-exposure vaccines are available for humans, however. Pets should be vaccinated for rabies every one to three years.
Knowing how many illnesses and conditions your beloved pet can share with you and your family is frightening, but fortunately, basic handwashing, careful handling of pets and their environments, preventive veterinary care, and a little common sense, can mean you don’t need to worry about sharing your couch with your pet. Call WesVet Animal Hospital and schedule your pet’s next visit for their fecal screening, heartworm, flea, and tick prevention products, or rabies vaccination.