Most diseases that affect your pet are harmless to you, but in some cases, you can contract an illness from your pet. An illness that can be spread between pets and animals is known as a zoonotic disease. Our team at Millbrae Pet Hospital wants to answer some common questions about zoonoses to help keep you and your pet safe from these concerning diseases.

How can zoonotic diseases spread between pets and people?

Most pet owners have received a sloppy kiss on the face from their pet. Do you wonder if that behavior could make you sick? Several infection routes exist between pets and people.

  • Direct contact — Contact with an infected animal’s body fluids, including saliva, blood, urine, mucous, and feces
  • Indirect contact — Contacting a contaminated object or surface, such as soil, food and water dishes, or aquarium tank water
  • Vector-borne — An infected tick, mosquito, or flea bite
  • Food-borne — Eating or drinking contaminated food, such as raw milk, undercooked meat, or unwashed vegetables
  • Water-borne — Drinking or swimming in water contaminated by an infected animal’s urine or feces

What common zoonotic diseases spread between pets and people?

More than 200 known zoonotic diseases, including the following, exist. Pathogens may be bacterial, viral, or parasitic.

  • Rabies Rabies is a dangerous disease spread by an infected animal’s body fluids. Infection is typically spread when an infected animal bites. In the United States, transmission most commonly occurs from bats, racoons, coyotes, foxes, and skunks. Rabies vaccinations are available to prevent the disease.
  • Lyme disease Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Infection occurs after an infected black-legged or deer tick bites. Lyme vaccinations are available for dogs.
  • Leptospirosis Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection passed through an infected animal’s urine. The disease is most common in warm locations with a high annual rainfall. Lepto vaccinations are available for dogs.
  • Ringworm Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin that is spread through contact with infected people or animals.
  • West Nile virus West Nile virus is a viral infection transmitted by an infected mosquito’s bite. West Nile virus vaccinations are available for horses.
  • Cat scratch fever Cat scratch fever is a bacterial infection caused by Bartonella henselae. The disease is transmitted when an infected cat bites or scratches. Fleas and ticks may also carry the bacteria.
  • Toxoplasmosis Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Infection is transmitted by contacting infected cat feces, eating undercooked meat, especially venison, lamb, and pork, and drinking contaminated water.
  • Giardiasis Giardiasis is a parasitic infection caused by the parasite Giardia lamblia. Infection is spread by contacting infected people or animals, eating contaminated food, or drinking contaminated water.

How can I prevent zoonotic diseases from spreading between pets and people?

Anyone can be affected by a zoonotic disease, but children under age 5, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with a weakened immune system are more at risk, and should take extra precautions. Some tips to help prevent zoonotic diseases from spreading include:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially after handling your pets.
  • Avoid being bitten or scratched by pets or wild animals.
  • Take your pet for regular wellness checks, and keep their vaccinations up to date.
  • Keep your pet’s living area clean and free from waste materials.
  • Keep your pet on year-round flea and tick preventives.
  • Use insect repellent to protect yourself from mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas.
  • Cook all meat thoroughly before eating.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables well before eating.
  • Check for ticks on yourself and your pet after an outing.
  • Do not handle or approach any wild animal who appears sick, and use gloves if you have to handle a pet who is sick.

What do I do if I contract a zoonotic disease from my pet?

If you believe you are infected by a zoonotic disease, seek advice from a medical professional immediately. Your prognosis will depend on the specific zoonotic disease that is affecting you. If a wild animal bites or scratches you, seek medical attention as soon as possible. If a tick bites, remove the tick carefully, and monitor yourself for signs. Preserve the tick in a safe container so you can identify the species and narrow down the possible diseases should you later show signs. Your doctor will be able to perform the necessary diagnostics and prescribe the appropriate medications. If your pet contracts a zoonotic disease, wear gloves when you handle them, and avoid contact with their bodily fluids. 

Zoonotic diseases are concerning for you and your pet, but practicing safe food-handling techniques, using parasite prevention, and taking precautions around wild animals will help you prevent infection. If you are concerned your pet has a zoonotic disease, or you would like to discuss vaccinations or flea and tick prevention methods for your pet, do not hesitate to contact our team at Millbrae Pet Hospital.