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Can Your Pet Make You Sick?
Faithful felines and devoted dogs provide innumerable benefits to their owners, but sometimes they can spread infections to humans. There are several steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of contracting an infection from your pet.
With millions pets in United States homes, transmission of an infectious disease from pet to owner can occur. However, common sense and proper veterinary care can keep these occurrences relatively low.
Most animal diseases are treatable, even avoidable. If your pet gets sick it is important to get prompt treatment.
Many infectious diseases tend to be specific to certain species. However, bacteria or parasites that live harmlessly or cause limited disease in one species may cause more serious illness in another.
What Can Pets Pass Along?
Animal bites and scratches can present serious problems for people. If a wound is not cleaned and dressed properly or if medical care is not provided, the person is more likely to get an infection. Infections that may be passed from pets to people include:
Cat Scratch Fever
Cat scratch fever is caused by bacteria carried by healthy kittens and cats. Cat scratch fever results after a cat scratches the skin, bites, or licks an open sore. About a week later, the point of contact develops a raised bump. Other symptoms may occur, like fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, or headache. Serious complications, like a high fever or pneumonia, may result.
Another infection that can result from contact with cats, toxoplasmosis, poses the most danger to unborn children of women who do not have immunity or antibodies to the agent. Cats harboring the parasite may not show any symptoms but will shed spores in their feces. The spores can become infectious within a day or 2.
Giardiasis is spread through ingestion of water or food that has been contaminated by feces containing a specific organism. Giardia is one of the most common intestinal parasites of both pets and humans in the US. Giardiasis causes gastrointesinal symptoms, including diarrhea, bloating, nausea, and abdominal pain.
Ringworm is an itchy, fungal skin infection that can occur after contact with an infected pet.
Roundworms and Hookworms
These intestinal parasites can make the move to people through contact with contaminated dirt. Roundworms are not infectious right away. They need to develop in the soil for a couple of weeks. While hookworms enter the feet and cause intense itching, ingested roundworm eggs can make their way to organs and lead to serious complications. Symptoms include abdominal pain, gas, nausea, headache, and fatigue.
In pregnant women, hookworms are associated with premature birth and low birth weight.
A bite from an infected animal can cause rabies. You can eliminate this risk by having your pets vaccinated against rabies.
Take these steps to decrease the risk of getting an infection from your pet:
- Provide pets with routine veterinary care, testing, and vaccination.
- Discuss pet-related health risks with your veterinarian. Most vets are knowledgeable about this topic.
- Take your pet to the vet whenever it is ill, even for bouts of diarrhea or skin rashes.
- Teach pets not to scratch you or others, even in play.
- Instruct children how to play with pets to decrease the chance of being bitten.
- Wash skin scratches or bites with soap and water. Seek medical attention if the pet punctures the skin.
- Keep animals' nails clipped.
- Train animals not to drink out of the toilet.
- Feed animals pet food or cooked meat.
- Do not let pets eat feces or hunt for prey.
- Avoid letting animals lick your mouth or open sores.
- Pick up feces as soon as pets defecate. Do not use the stool as fertilizer.
- Do not let children play in public areas where animals may have defecated.
- Empty the litter box daily and wear gloves.
- Wash your hands after picking up droppings or cleaning the litter box.
Taking good care of your pets is the key to having a disease-free home.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Humane Society International
Public Health Agency of Canada
Cat-scratch disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 25, 2014. Accessed July 22, 2015.
Giardiasis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 7, 2014. Accessed July 22, 2015.
Kaplan JE, Benson C, et al. Guidelines for prevention and treatment of opportunistic infections in HIV-infected adults and adolescents: recommendations from CDC, the National Institutes of Health, and the HIV Medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2009;58(RR-4):1-207.
Preventing infections from pets: a guide for people with HIV infection. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website. Available at: https://innovations.ahrq.gov/qualitytools/preventing-infections-pets-guide-people-hiv-infection. Updated April 11, 2008. Accessed July 22, 2015.
Tan JS. Human zoonotic infections transmitted by dogs and cats. Arch Intern Med. 1997;157:1933-1943.
Toxoplasmosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 1, 2013. Accessed October 15, 2013.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 07/2015
- Update Date: 10/15/2013