Owning a pet can be a wonderful, very rewarding experience for you and your family. However, it is possible for pets to transmit diseases that may be harmful to humans - especially young children and people with certain medical conditions. These are called zoonotic diseases or zoonoses (pronounced zoo-NO-sees).
There are two types of zoonotic diseases: illnesses that can be transmitted from animals to human and diseases that infect both people and pets. That's why it's important to take the necessary precautions to protect both your family and your pet from zoonotic diseases.
A Few Zoonotic Diseases That Affect People
Cat Scratch disease - Also known as "cat scratch fever," is a flea-borne infection typically transmitted from a cat's scratch or bite. Signs include pimples at the scratch site and swollen lymph nodes that may persist for many weeks.
Ehrlichiosis - A bacterial disease transmitted by ticks that can cause fever, muscle aches, vomiting and other, more serious symptoms.
Giardia – A parasite that infects people when they drink water containing the parasite or by putting something in your mouth that has come into contact with an infected pet's stool. Signs include diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea.
Leptospirosis - "Lepto" is a bacterial disease spread by contact with urine from an infected animal, including dogs, raccoons, squirrels, and skunks. Dogs can contract Lepto from living in an area with wildlife. This disease can cause high fever, severe headache, vomiting and, if left untreated, kidney damage or liver failure.
Lyme Disease - Spread by ticks, Lyme disease can cause arthritis and kidney damage. Both humans and pets get Lyme Disease from infected Ticks. *Note that you cannot transmit the disease from human to dog or vice versa.
Rabies - Caused by a virus found in the saliva of infected animals and transmitted to people by bites. It is invariably fatal if not promptly treated. **See bottom of page for general post-exposure guidelines**
Ringworm - A fungal infection - not a worm - transmitted by contact with the skin or fur of an infected dog or cat. Signs include a bald patch of scaly skin on the scalp, or a ring-shaped, itchy rash on the skin.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever - A tick-borne disease that causes fever, headache, and muscle pain, followed by a rash. May be fatal if left untreated.
Toxoplasmosis - A parasitic disease spread by contact with cat feces in soil or litter. However, the major means of transmission is contaminated meat. It can cause serious health problems in pregnant women or in people with compromised immune systems.
Ways to Protect Your Family and Pets
Vaccinations are now available for many zoonotic diseases such as leptospirosis, Lyme disease, and rabies. Regular wellness exams can help detect and treat zoonotic infections before they become serious and are transmitted to other pets or people in your house. Don’t forget to take these steps to help protect your family and pets:
Wash your hands often when touching, playing with, or caring for pets.
Never handle the stool of any animal without wearing disposable gloves or some kind of a plastic barrier.
Do daily "tick checks" on yourself, your kids, and your pet. If you find a tick, use tweezers to slowly pull it out. After removing the tick, immerse it in rubbing alcohol. Wash the tick bite wound and your hands with soap and water.
Don't let your pet drink from standing water outdoors.
If you are pregnant, have someone else clean the cat's litter box. If you must do it yourself, wear gloves and immediately wash your hands after.
Don't let your pet come into contact with feces or urine of other animals.
Wash your hands after gardening or working in soil where pets may have relieved themselves.
Keep yard and living area free of materials that may attract disease-carrying wildlife.
See your veterinarian and make sure your pet is protected with vaccinations.
If you are scratched or bitten, wash the area with soap and water right away and administer first aid. If there is a possible rabies exposure, contact your doctor AND veterinarian immediately.