Pets are one of life’s great joys. But talking to your veterinarian about possible disease transmission can help you avoid the risks. Diseases from pets can be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, touching and/or petting, through bites and scratches, inhalation, and through mosquitos, ticks, and fleas, Dr. Gallagher says. Very young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are, particularly at high risk. Here are diseases you can get from your pet.
While it’s unlikely that you’ll contract rabies from your pet (it’s most commonly contracted from wild animals like racoons and bats), it’s within the realm of possibility since it is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. “The disease is most commonly contracted through a bite, although potentially it could be transmitted through a scratch as well,” says Gary Richter, MS, DVM, a veterinary health expert with Rover.com. “Although human exposure to rabies from a dog is uncommon, it’s worth noting since rabies is almost 100 percent fatal if the person is not treated immediately after exposure.” The best way to prevent it is to keep your pet up-to-date with their vaccines.
Symptoms in pets: Foaming at the mouth is the most common sign of rabies, but other symptoms could include behavioural changes, fever, hypersensitivity to touch, light, and sound, hiding in dark places, staggering loss of appetite, and seizures.
Symptoms in humans: According to the CDC, preliminary symptoms can include fever, headache, and weakness, but as it progresses and infects the central nervous system, you can experience insomnia, anxiety, confusion, partial paralysis, and hallucinations.
“While you can contract this by eating undercooked pork, you can also contract this from an infected pet,” explains Dr. Shainhouse. One caveat: There needs to be a host, like a flea or another animal infected with tapeworm, and you could have to ingest that host in order to contract the tapeworm. So the best line of defence is to wash your hands often and consider running a flea comb through your pet’s fur after they’ve been outside.
Symptoms in pets: According to Dr. Shainhouse, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, rice-like pieces in the stool, fatigue, hunger or loss of appetite, and longer worms in vomit are signs of tapeworm. She says that pets with tapeworm also often drag their bottoms along the ground.
Symptoms in humans: Abdominal pain, diarrhoea, rice-like pieces in the stool, fatigue, hunger or loss of appetite.
“Ringworm, which is a fungal disease (despite the deceptive name), grows on hair follicles. It is transmitted through direct contact,” explains Dr. Richter. Cleaning your pet’s bedding regularly, frequently washing your hands, vacuuming, and disinfecting are your best bets for avoiding ringworm.
Symptoms in pets: Animals get the same circular lesion as humans, but it can be difficult to see under their fur so look out for signs like red lesions, crusty skin, and patchy hair.
Symptoms in humans: Ringworm in humans is usually easy to spot thanks to the telltale ring-shaped rash that is often red and itchy.
Yet another canine parasite, hookworms suck on the intestinal lining of dogs. The eggs in the pet feces could transfer through the skin if you come in contact with it. Thoroughly washing your hands will go a long way, especially after curbing your dog.
Symptoms in pets: Diarrhea, weight loss
Symptoms in humans: People often show no symptoms but can come down with loss of appetite, anaemia, cough, wheezing, or rash.
“Dog and cat bites that pierce human skin can cause severe skin infection and cellulitis if not treated immediately,” warns Dr. Shainhouse. “Cats’ mouths carry Pasteurella multocida, while dogs carry Staphylococcus, Streptomyces and Capnocytophaga sp.” Avoid rough play with your pets or other animals that might result in them taking an unintentional nibble of your skin.
Symptoms in pets: None.
Symptoms in humans: Bite mark and severe skin infection.
Irritant contact dermatitis
Though it’s not totally a disease, contact dermatitis is an irritating side effect of having pets for some people. “Pet kisses may be a sign of affection or loyalty, but it can cause skin irritation in humans,” says Dr. Shainhouse.
“If you are crazy enough to have a pet tarantula, know that they are not soft and fuzzy. Their ‘fur’ is actually spines that can be shed as protection when they are afraid or in fighting mode. These spines can prickle your skin and cause irritant dermatitis.”
Take preventative measures especially if you have sensitive skin, like washing up after getting licked by your pet to prevent a rash.
Symptoms in pets: None
Symptoms in humans: Skin irritation, rash, and itchiness.
Camp-what? The name may be hard to pronounce, but the CDC estimates that Campylobacter is the top cause of bacterial diarrheal illness in the country. Though it’s typically contracted from raw or undercooked poultry, pets can also spread it. “Campylobacteriosis is a bacterial disease caused by Campylobacter species. Faecal-oral transmission can result in gastrointestinal symptoms in most healthy persons. More serious infections can occur if a person is very young, elderly, or immunocompromised,” says Dr. Gallagher.
That’s why it’s important to wash your hands frequently, especially if you come in contact with animal faeces.
Symptoms in pets: Most common in puppies younger than six months old. Fever, vomiting, and enlarged lymph nodes are possible symptoms in your dog.
Symptoms in humans: Severe, often bloody diarrhoea, fever, and abdominal cramps are the top symptoms.