Diseases You Can Catch From Your Pet

Sick bengal cat
Sick bengal cat. Getty Images/GK Hart/Vikki Hart

The family pet is considered a true member of the family. It is important to note that these animals are capable of transmitting diseases to humans. Pets harbor a number of germs and parasites including bacteriaviruses, protozoans, and fungi. Pets can also carry fleasticks, and mites, which can infect humans and transmit disease. Pregnant women, infants, children younger than 5, and individuals with suppressed immune systems are most susceptible to contracting diseases from pets. The most effective way to prevent pet-related disease is to wash your hands properly after handling pets or pet excrement, avoid getting scratched or bitten by pets, and ensure your pet is properly vaccinated and receives routine veterinary care. Below are some common diseases that you can catch from your pet:

  • Bacterial Diseases
    Pets can transmit a number of bacterial diseases including cat-scratch-disease, salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, and MRSA.
  • Worm Diseases
    Worms are parasites that are can cause illness and are spread by parasitic bugs such as ticks and fleas.
  • Ringworm
    Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin, hair, and nails. This type of infection produces an itchy, ring-shaped rash.
  • Protozoan Diseases
    Protozoan diseases are caused by tiny, one-celled eukaryotic organisms called protozoans. Giardiasis and toxoplasmosis are two types of protozoan diseases that people can get from pets.
  • Rabies
    Rabies is a viral disease that can be transmitted to humans from the bite of an infected animal.
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Bacterial Diseases

A bandaged human hand and a cat's paw.
Cat-scratch disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to humans by cats. Jennifer Causey/Moment/Getty Images

Pets infected with bacteria can transmit these organisms to their owners. Increasing evidence indicates that animals can even spread antibiotic resistant bacteria, such as MRSA to people. Pets can also spread Lyme disease, which is transmitted by ticks. Three bacterial diseases that are often transmitted to humans by their pets are cat-scratch disease, salmonellosis, and campylobacteriosis.

Cat-scratch disease is probably the most common disease associated with cats. As cats often love to scratch things and people, infected cats can transmit Bartonella henselae bacteria by scratching or biting hard enough to penetrate the skin. Cat-scratch disease causes swelling and redness in the infected area and may result in swollen lymph nodes. Cats contract the bacteria through flea bites or infected flea dirt. To prevent the spread of this disease, cat owners should not allow cats to lick open wounds and quickly wash cat bites or scratches with soap and water. Owners should control fleas on pets, keep their cat's nails trimmed, and ensure pets receive routine veterinary care.

Salmonellosis is an illness caused by Salmonella bacteria. It can be contracted by consuming food or water that is contaminated with Salmonella. Symptoms of salmonellosis infection include nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Salmonellosis is often spread by contact with reptile pets including lizards, snakes, turtles. Salmonella is also transmitted to people by other pets (cats, dogs, birds) through the handling of pet feces or raw foods. To prevent the spread of salmonellosis, pet owners should wash their hands properly after cleaning litter boxes or handling pet feces. Infants and those with suppressed immune systems should avoid contact with reptiles. Pet owners should also avoid feeding pets raw food.

Campylobacteriosis is an illness caused by Campylobacter bacteria. Campylobacter is a foodborne pathogen that is often spread through contaminated food or water. It is also spread through contact with pet stool. Pets infected with Campylobacter may not exhibit symptoms, but these bacteria can cause nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea in people. To prevent the spread of campylobacteriosis, pet owners should wash their hands properly after handling pet feces and avoid feeding pets raw food

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Worm Diseases

SEM of a dog tapeworm
This is a colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of the head of a dog tapeworm. STEVE GSCHMEISSNER/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Pets can transmit a number of worm parasites to people, including tapeworms, hookworms, and roundworms. The Dipylidium caninum tapeworm infects cats and dogs and can be transmitted to humans through the ingestion of fleas that are infected with tapeworm larvae. Accidental ingestion can happen when grooming a pet. Most cases of pet to human transfer occurs in children. The best way to prevent tapeworm infection is to control the flea population on your pet and in your environment. Pets with tapeworm should be treated by a veterinarian. Treatment for both pets and people involves administering medication.

Hookworms are transmitted by contact with contaminated soil or sand. Pets can pick up hookworm eggs from their environment and become infected. Infected animals spread hookworm eggs in the environment through feces. Hookworm larvae penetrate unprotected skin and cause infection in humans. Hookworm larvae cause the disease cutaneous larva migrans in humans, which produces inflammation in the skin. To avoid infection, people should not walk barefoot, sit, or kneel on ground that may be contaminated with animal stool. Pets should receive routine veterinary care, including worm treatment.

Roundworms or nematodes cause the disease toxocariasis. It can be transmitted to humans by cats and dogs that are infected with Toxocara roundworms. People most often become infected by accidentally ingesting dirt that has been contaminated with Toxocara eggs. While most people who become infected with Toxocara roundworms don't become sick, those that become sick may develop ocular toxocariasis or visceral toxocariasis. Ocular toxocariasis results when roundworm larvae travel to the eye and cause inflammation and vision loss. Visceral toxocariasis results when the larvae infect body organs or the central nervous system. Individuals with toxocariasis should seek treatment from their health care provider. To prevent toxocariasis, pet owners should take their animals to a veterinarian regularly, wash their hands properly after playing with pets, and not allow children to play in dirt or areas that may contain pet feces.

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Ringworm

Ringworm
Ringworm is a disease caused by a fungal infection of the skin that can be transmitted to people by pets. OGphoto/E+/Getty Images

Ringworm is a skin infection caused by a fungus that can be spread by pets. This fungus causes a circular rash on the skin and is transmitted by contact with skin and fur of infected animals or by contact with infected surfaces. Since ringworm is easily transmitted, contact with infected pets should be avoided by children and those with weak immune systems. Pet owners should wear gloves and long sleeves when petting or playing with infected pets. Pet owners should also wash their hands properly and vacuum and disinfect areas where the pet has spent time. Animals with ringworm should be seen by a veterinarian. Ringworm in people is commonly treated with non-prescription medications, however,​ some infections require treatment with prescription antifungal medication.

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Protozoan Diseases

A pregnant woman with a cat
Pregnant women with cats are in danger of contracting toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by a parasite that infects cats. Toxoplasmosis can be fatal to infants born to mothers who contract the parasite during pregnancy. Sudo Takeshi/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Protozoans are microscopic eukaryotic organisms that can infect animals and humans. These parasites can be transmitted from pets to humans and cause diseases such as toxoplasmosis, giardiasis, and leishmaniasis. The best way to prevent these type of diseases is to wash your hands properly after handling pet excrement, wear gloves when caring for an ill pet, disinfect surfaces, and avoid eating raw or under-cooked meat.

Toxoplasmosis: This disease, caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, is commonly seen in domesticated cats and can infect the human brain and influence behavior. The parasite is estimated to infect as much as half the global population. Toxoplasmosis is commonly contracted by eating undercooked meat or by handling cat feces. Toxoplasmosis generally causes flu-like symptoms, but most infected individuals do not experience illness as the immune system keeps the parasite in check. In severe cases, however, toxoplasmosis can cause mental disorders and be fatal to those with compromised immune systems and infants born to mothers who contract the parasite during pregnancy.

Giardiasis: This diarrheal illness is caused by Giardia parasites. Giardia are spread commonly through soil, water, or food that has been contaminated with feces. Symptoms of giardiasis include diarrhea, greasy stools, nausea/vomiting, and dehydration.

Leishmaniasis: This disease is caused by Leishmania parasites, which are transmitted by biting flies known as sandflies. Sandflies become infected after sucking blood from infected animals and can pass the disease on by biting people. Leishmaniasis causes skin sores and can also affect the spleen, liver, and bone marrow. Leishmaniasis most often occurs in tropical regions of the globe.

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Rabies

A dog being vaccinated
The best way to prevent rabies and other diseases is to make sure your pet's vaccinations are up-to-date. Sadeugra/E+/Getty Images

Rabies is a disease caused by the rabies virus. This virus attacks the brain and central nervous system and can be fatal in humans. Rabies is usually fatal in animals. The rabies virus is found in the saliva of infected animals and is typically transmitted to humans through bites. The best way to prevent rabies is to make sure your pet's rabies vaccinations are up-to-date, keep your pets under direct supervision, and avoid contact with wild or stray animals.

Sources:

  • Healthy Pets Healthy People. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated 04/30/14. (http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/)