Can Our Pets Make Us Sick? Unfortunately the answer is yes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Zoonotic Diseases are caused by infections that are shared between animals and people and are very common in the United States and around the world.”
According to the World Health Organization, some of these diseases are parasitic, fungal, bacterial, or viral in origin. Any animal can contract zoonotic diseases, but according to Dr. Douglas Brum (Pet Place.com) there is increased risk from outdoor pets, unvaccinated animals, pets with suppressed immune systems, poorly groomed animals and those living in unsanitary conditions. More than 150 zoonotic diseases exist and information about some of the more familiar diseases will be discussed in today’s column.
Hookworms and roundworms are common internal parasites that infect dogs and cats and are spread when humans (especially children) accidentally eat or touch play sand or dirt contaminated with worm eggs shed from a pet’s stool. The eggs hatch in the intestines and travel throughout the body. The worm larva can also burrow into skin. These parasites settle in human eyes (causing inflammation and blindness) or in the liver causing chills, fever, malaise, and an elevated white blood cell count. Tapeworms are contracted by eating raw or undercooked meat or fish or by swallowing a flea. Giardia is a microscopic parasite to which dogs and cats are susceptible to infection and is passed in the feces and usually spread to other animals and humans from contaminated water sources, surfaces, or in uncooked food items according to the CDC. Giardia symptoms in humans include diarrhea, gas, abdominal cramps, nausea, and dehydration. Prescription medications are available to treat this condition. The CDC states: “It is important to realize that the majority of cases of giardiasis in people do not occur as by infection in cats, but rather by ingesting water or food contaminated by farm animals or wildlife.”
Ticks and mosquitoes feed on infected wildlife and transfer Lyme and other tick-borne diseases to dogs and humans who both may exhibit symptoms like rash, painful swollen joints, fever, sensitive lymph nodes, neurological problems and kidney damage. Rare cases of Heartworm disease infecting humans have been reported. This mosquito-borne disease is spread after a mosquito obtains a blood meal from an infected animal and then bites a human.
Ringworm is a slow-growing fungus (not always ring-shaped) that feeds on dead skin cells and hair of all types of animals and found in soil. The spores from canine ringworm (which affects young dogs and cats) contaminate grooming utensils and fabric that have touched the pet. Ringworm can also be spread from humans to pets.
Cats that prey on rodents and birds may contract toxoplasmosis that lives within the cells of the small intestine and is shed in cat feces. Pregnant women who clean out cat litter boxes or garden without gloves are at risk for becoming infected and may deliver babies with severe birth defects. This disease can also be contracted from eating raw and under-cooked meat or unwashed vegetables. Please note that people who are HIV positive or have weakened immune systems are highly susceptible to contracting toxoplasmosis.
Cat scratch fever is caused by bacteria from flea feces found in cat saliva and claws and is passed on to humans from a bite or scratch.
Salmonella: are a group of intestinal bacteria carried by pets like reptiles amphibians (also found in their habitats), rats, mice, hedgehogs and from cats that feed on raw meat, wild birds or wild animals. Symptoms in healthy humans include severe cramps and diarrhea, but might be life-threatening for infants and people with weakened immune systems.
Streptococcal eye or Staphylococcal skin infections in pets may spread to humans from contaminated hands and objects.
Parrot fever is caused by a bacteria that lives in the respiratory systems in birds and is transmitted by inhaling dust from dried bird droppings, dander, and nasal secretions of infected birds and causes flu-like illness that may range from mild to life-threatening in humans..
Leptospirosis is found in puddles and streams contaminated by rat urine and causes kidney infections in mammals and the following signs in humans: headache, vomiting, muscle pain and sometimes hepatitis, meningitis and kidney failure.
Rabies is probably the most feared viral zoonotic disease and is always fatal if a pet cat or dog has not been inoculated. However inoculated pets can still spread rabies if the rabid animal’s saliva is on the pet’s fur and is being handled by a human who may have a minor open wound that then becomes contaminated by the rabid animal’s saliva.
Preventing zoonotic diseases
If you are pregnant, please ask a family member to clean the cat’s litter box daily or you must wear protective gloves and a mask if no one else can perform this task.
Wash your pet’s bedding weekly.
Clean cages, litter boxes, flooring and pet’s living space at least weekly (if not more) using pet-safe cleaning products.
Wear gloves when cleaning out litter boxes and when gardening.
Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently after handling pets and encourage your children to copy this important habit!
Also wash hands thoroughly before preparing food.
Securely cover your children’s sand box to prevent cats or other creatures from using it as a latrine.
Do not feed pets raw meat.
Always wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
Discourage pets from licking human faces by tossing a favorite toy away from you as retrieving game.
Use vet-recommended Heartworm, tick and flea preventive medications regularly.
Keep all pet s rabies and other core inoculations current and have dogs tested for heartworm and Lyme disease.
Bring stool samples to the vet to check for parasites, a change in consistency, color, or if blood is present.
Always walk your dog on a leash especially if you hike with your dog on trails to prevent him from eating animal feces, carcasses, or drinking from contaminated streams or puddles.
Rinse your dog’s paws and body after swimming or walking through puddles.
If your dog is involved with outdoor canine sports like field work for duck hunting, tracking, K-9 scent detection, dock diving, or enjoys walking on trails on leash, ask your vet if your dog should receive a leptospirosis inoculation to protect him from this disease.
Secure trashcans and feed pets indoors to prevent inviting wildlife to visit your property.
Supervise pets outdoors even if you have a fenced-in yard.
Teach your children to never approach unfamiliar dogs or cats and avoid handling wildlife.
If you, your child or pet is bitten by an unfamiliar animal, please contact the police and the Humane Society to report the incident, and also call your vet because your pet may require a rabies booster.
Hopefully you will never have to experience dealing with a zoonotic disease, but it pays to be aware of what might happen and how to take preventative measures!