Diseases Humans can get from Pets:
There are all kinds of terrible diseases you can get from animals, fish, and birds. And animals have internal and external parasites that can cause disease in people. Or animals might bring disease carrying ticks, fleas, and lice into close proximity to humans putting them in danger.
But luckily most of these terrible diseases are not a big problem in The United States or Canada. And only a few are associated with dogs and cats. And for the most part, these potential diseases are easy to prevent.
Here's a list and some short comments about the relatively few zoonotic problems to be aware of for cats and dogs in The United States. For most of these diseases you can click on the links to your left for more information.
Intestinal worms: the intestinal worms carried by dogs and cats can sometimes be ingested... or bore through the skin... of humans causing a disease called cutaneous larval migrans. And if the parasite gets into the nervous system, it can cause neural signs including seizures and blindness. Young children are especially susceptible. The subspecies of round worms carried and spread by raccoons are quite dangerous to people. So don't encourage coons to hang out in yards where children play.
Cryptosporidosis is a little protozoan parasite that most people get from drinking contaminated water but might be transferred through the fecal material of pets. Perhaps from grooming their rectal areas and then licking your face. We're not sure. Sometimes the dysentery this bug can cause can require hospitalization, IV fluids and so forth, especially in those with weak immune systems.
Giardiasis may be the most frequent cause of nonbacterial diarrhea in North America. Like cryptosporidosis, giardia is a protozan organism and most people get it from contaminated water.
But it's possible that transmission is from your pets. Giardia causes diarrhea.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease spread through the urine of infected animals... mainly wildlife, cattle, and rats. Now that there is so much wildlife living in close proximity to humans, the disease, while not too common, is on the uprise.
In people, the symptoms are often flu-like, but sometimes there is serious damage done to the kidneys and eyes.
Symptoms in dogs include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, refusal to eat, severe weakness and depression, renal disease, and liver dysfunction. We encourage most dogs to be vaccinated for this disease at least once a year. Because the vaccine is for a bacterial disease protection is relatively short compared with vaccines that protect from viral infections.
Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA):Transmission of infections between pets and humans are increasing, with the most common being infections of the skin, soft-tissue and surgical infections. Dog or cat bites can result in infection, caused by bacteria from the animal's mouth and on the patients' body. Animals are potential reservoirs of MSRA infection due to increasing prevalence of community-acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA) in humans and domestic animals such as dogs, cats and horses.
Salmonellosis is a bacterial diseases that can cause severe diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment, although it can be fatal to those with fragile immune systems. While it's possible that you might get this bacteria from your pet, the vast majority of cases are due to eating food handled from human carriers.
Rabies virus: a major threat in some countries but well under control in our country thanks to years of vaccination programs. But vigilence is still important. There are an estimated 5 million dog bite incidents per year; of those, approximately 10,000 require hospitalization and about 20 people, mostly young children, die.
Everyone knows, of course, that rabies is a deadly disease that you get from being bitten by any warm blooded animal carrying the disease.
What you need to know about rabies is pretty basic: Keep your pets vaccinated; the vaccines are very successful and are legally required in the United States.
Another thing to know is that if you are bitten by a pet; first wash out the bite wound well (the rabies virus is killed by most antiseptics) , and if you're not sure if the animal that bit you has a current rabies vaccination, call a physician.
And most of all, be careful in handling wild animals...the biggest carriers of rabies are foxes, coons, skunks, woodchucks, squirrels, feral cats, and bats.
This advice is especially important to all of you kind hearted people that rescue injured and sick wild animals and try to catch wild cats.
For really in depth information on rabies as well as most other zoonotic and contagious diseases, visit the great web site of the Center for Disease Control at www.CDC.gov
Ringworm: fairly common but usually a minor nuisance.
Tick borne diseases: Lymes disease, ehrlichia, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are problems in some parts of the country and their incidence seems to be on the rise. Pets don't actually transfer the disease, but they are a likely source of bringing ticks into the home environment.
Toxoplasmosis: you are more likely to get this organism from eating contaminated meat or vegetables, but cats are the end host. Exposure to this organism usually results in no symptoms... maybe a fever or flu like symptoms for a few days in most people... but is notorious for causing severe damage to babies in the womb under certain circumstances.
Brucellosis (also known as undulant fever or Malta fever) is quite rare in this country, once again thanks to decades of vaccinations, inspections, and control programs. This is a disease that is sexually spread so only unfixed pets are likely to be carriers. The disease in humans is likely to be asymptomatic UNLESS the person is pregnant. Brucellosis causes miscarraiges and abortions.
Heartworms: at present this is a rare disease in people even though we are often exposed (if you get bitten by mosquitos very often). But some people with weak immune systems are getting sick and if this parasites can mutate and adapt to our immune systems, this disease may become a problem in the future.
Tapeworms: Certain tapeworms that encyst in the muscles of livestock and fish can infect humans if they eat the infected meat without cooking it well.
But the common tapeworm of dogs and cats are NOT infectious to people. Echinococcus granulosus, also called the Hydatid worm or Hyper Tapeworm or Dog Tapeworm, is a parasite of dogs... especially coyotes and wolves...and this worm can cause severe neural diseases and blindness in people....but you don't get it directly from your pet dog. You get it from eating beef, lamb, pork, venison, and so forth that hasn't been cooked well.
Helicobacter pylori is a bacteria that can form ulcers in the stomachs of animals and people. It might rarely spread to humans from cats dogs and ferrets through poor sanitation.
In dogs, cats and people the most frequent sign of Helicobacter is intermittent vomiting. Affected individuals may also become nauseous, loose their appetite, and lose weight.
Cat Scratch Fever (Bartonellosis): This is another bacterial infection, (Bartonella henselae). People can get it from being scratched or especially from being bitten by a carrier cat.
About half of the outdoor cats in the southern United States have been exposed at one time or another to the disease so may be carriers.
We think the disease is spread from cat to cat by fleas so this is another reason to keep your cats on effective flea control.
Symptoms in people are fever, malaise and enlarged, painful lymph nodes as well as a local inflammation at the site of the wound.
That's all the diseases I can think of that you or your family members might get from dogs and cats in certain circumstances. You can learn more about each of these diseases by clicking on the links to your left.
But before you go, please read the short column to your left where I argue NOT to be overly alarmed.
Below I've listed a few diseases spread by animals OTHER THAN dogs and cats just for your enlightenment.
Q fever is a zoonotic disease caused by Coxiella burnetti, a bacteria found world wide, mostly in cattle, sheep and goats. I mention this disease on this page because I thought it might interest you that most human cases occur in veterinarians, meat plant workers and farmers that raise sheep and cattle. The organisms are excreted in milk, urine and feces. They can also be transferred to humans by ticks.
Tularemia Or Rabbit Fever is associated with rabbits, rodents and squirrels. The disease in man is characterized by high fever, painful, enlarged lymph nodes, chills, muscle soreness and malaise. Ticks are the most common method of spread of the disease from animals to man. I mention this disease because the ticks could transfer from the rodents, rabbits, and squirrels near your home to your pets which in turn may transfer these disease carrying ticks to you. Tick control on your pets is important.
West Nile disease and Equine Encephalitis: Not a problem from dogs and cats but if you live or work near horses, mosquitos can sometimes transfer this disease from infected horses to humans. But the actual reservoir for this disease is not actually horses but migratory water birds.
The disease causes an inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). Most people that get exposed have minor symptoms but in a 2002 survey study, the disease resulted in 94 human deaths. In equine species, the mortality rate is quite high (about 30 percent) which is why we associate this disease with horses. Dogs are resistant to the disease but cases have occurred in cats, goats, chipmunks rabbits, skunks, bats, llamas and domestic birds.
Anxious about all this?
So, if you've glanced through the list on your right you might be feeling a little alarmed.
I do hope it will make you wash your hands a little more often and take the trouble and expense to keep your pet well vaccinated and parasite free.
But take heart:
Appreciate what we so often take for granted in our country; clean water and good control of our wastes.
There are four other reasons that the spread of disease from pets to humans is minimal in prosperous countries like the U.S.:
We vaccinate our pets.
We minimize the parasites in our pets through regular deworming and control of fleas and ticks.
We feed our pets high quality diets as opposed to some countries where pets have to scavenge through dumps, garbage, and animal corpses for their daily meals.
And we control our stray pet population.
(You can help minimize the stray pet problem by neutering and spaying all pets that you don't want to breed on purpose and by donating time or money to your local shelter)
You can donate to our no kill shelter by clicking on the donation buttom at the bottom of this page or for more information about our shelter, go to www.ARF-SC.org
One more comment:
It's natural when reading such lists to think "Oh my God, I'm never touching a pet again!"
Remember that these problems are rare, are easily prevented in most cases, and to say something nice about our government for a change, most of the diseases we need to worry about are well controlled and in many cases nearly eliminated by our vigilant government agencies, many of which are staffed with veterinarians.
Another way to put this in perspective is to imagine that I listed and described all the terrible things that might happen to you from having sex, or kissing, or eating in a public place.
Would you think "Oh my God, I'm never kissing, eating or having sex in a public place again?" Ha. Please don't read too much into my analogy or accuse me of encouraging sex, God Forbid, I'm just trying to lighten things up a little.