We all love our dogs and cats—our fur babies are precious to us and considered to be a part of the family. However, did you know that your fur babies can pass on some pretty nasty diseases to you and your family? A word of warning—this article is not for the squeamish!
Zoonotic disease are harmful germs that pets can spread to their humans, causing their humans to become ill. Zoonotic diseases can be caused by viruses, parasites, fungi and bacteria, which can all make people ill. Zoonotic diseases are common in the U.S. and in other countries around the world.
According to the CDC, more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people are spread from animals, and 3 out every 4 new or emerging infectious disease in people are spread from animals. That’s a sobering number.
How Do Pets Spread Germs to Humans?
Germs are easily passed between pets and their humans through a variety of ways:
- Illness: your pet can come down with an illness that you can catch through touching, cleaning up after the pet, etc.
- Indirect contact: when cleaning up after your pet or other animals, you may come into contact with saliva, pooh, or urine that’s infected with harmful germs.
- Direct contact: includes petting, touching and handling animals, receiving bites or scratches. Their urine, feces and saliva can be infected with harmful germs.
- Vector-borne: being bitten by an insect (something like a flea or mosquito) or a tick.
- Foodborne: eating and drinking contaminated foods, including unpasteurized milk, undercooked meat and eggs, raw fruits and vegetables that are contaminated.
Not only can you catch diseases from cats and dogs, but you can come into contact with harmful germs by handling any pet. This includes birds, reptiles, aquarium fish, small pets (rodents, etc.) and more. People most at risk of zoonotic infections include:
- Children under the age of 5 years
- People over 65 years of age
- People with AIDS/HIV
- Anyone receiving chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy
- People who have chronic diseases
- People who have received organ or bone marrow transplants
- Pregnant women & their unborn babies
Our pets provide us with a range of both physical and psychological benefits; however, any animal, including one that appears healthy, can transmit harmful germs that can make you very sick, or in the worst cases, cause death.
Dog Diseases Transmitted to Humans
What are the most common dog diseases that humans can catch? Are dog worms contagious to humans? Let’s take a look.
1. Ringworm: is a fungal infection that can affect any skin on the body. This disease is not caused by worms—it’s caused by a fungal infection caused by dermatophytes. These fungi grow in warm, moist areas (such as places where we sweat), and it causes an itchy, scaly red skin and bald spot on the scalp (or the beard). This is a highly contagious skin infection that can be passed directly from dogs (and other animals) to people. Not only that, but the disease can be caught by coming into contact with an object that has been infected by the dog (such as a brush, bedding, etc.).
2. Campylobacter infection: this is a bacterial intestinal infection caused by Campylobacter jejuni and Campylobacter upsaliensis. This is one of the major causes of bacterial enteritis in humans, though these bacteria is a normal part of the intestinal environment in birds and other animals, including dogs. Clinical signs of infection may include watery diarrhea, abdominal pain or cramping, extreme fatigue and fever. Diarrhea may last over a week and relapses are common and sudden after the dog is thought to have recovered. In dogs, this condition usually doesn’t need medical treatment.
3. Roundworms: these are actually worms (also called nematodes), which are intestinal parasites, that live off the partially digested food within the intestine. Doesn’t that sound yummy! The main types of roundworms carried by dogs are Toxocara canis and Toxascaris leonine. Toxocara canis can make dogs and people more sick and is most often transmitted to humans than Toxascaris leonine. Dogs can easily become infected by sniffing the feces of another animal, including other dogs, rodents or even cockroaches and earthworms. If the dog eats the parasitic host, the roundworm then matures inside the dog and continues its lifecycle. Infected mother dogs can pass this infection on to their puppies, too. OK—this sounds like a horrible sci-fi film, if you ask me!
4. Hookworms: are another type of intestinal parasite common in dogs (and cats). Hookworms use their hook-shaped mouths to anchor themselves into the lining of the intestine, where they begin to eat blood. While adult hookworms cannot infect humans, the larvae can burrow into human skin (most often the feet). The hookworms will eventually mature and die, as they cannot live in humans. However, before they die, the larvae can migrate throughout the body, causing damage to internal organs and even the eyes.
5. Tapeworms: these flat, segmented worms are intestinal parasites that can live in dogs (and cats). Tapeworms come in several varieties, but the most common in canines is the Dipylidium caninum. Dogs most often come into contact with this parasite through the feces of an infected animal or from fleas. People cannot catch tapeworms directly from dogs but may become infected through accidentally swallowing a flea that’s a carrier.
Humans can also become infected by eating contaminated meet or by accidentally eating eggs that originated on the feces of dogs or other animals. To avoid this problem, all meats should be thoroughly cooked in order to kill the tapeworm eggs that may be present.
What should you look for in parasite from dog to human symptoms? When it comes to intestinal parasites, these are the most common symptoms to watch for:
- Weight loss
- Upset stomach
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Worm segments in stool
Treatment depends on the type of infection and the symptoms and their severity. Healthy individuals may have strong enough immune systems to rid their body of the infection. However, other people may need medical treatment, which includes the use of antiparasitic medications. Most of the time this is enough to help the body heal, but some people may experience complications due to the infection.
Diseases You Can Get from Cats
If you’re still reading, and not yet sick, then let’s take a look at diseases humans can catch from their cats. These infections include diseases from cat feces and urine.
1. Salmonellosis: is a bacterial infection, a form of salmonella, which can be passed from cats to humans. This infection can cause inflammation of the intestines (enteritis) and septicemia (blood infection). Just petting your cat (or dog) and then putting your fingers near your mouth can make you sick with this infection. This type of infection is quite common in humans and animals around the world. Most people recover without medical treatment, but it can be a life-threatening disease.
2. Giardia: this is an intestinal infection in cats (and other animals) caused by Giardia duodenalis. This parasitical infection is also known as “Travelers’s Diarrhea” in humans. Humans can catch this infection by drinking contaminated water outdoors, or even from contaminated municipal water sources. Transmission from cat to human is rare, though it can happen. It’s especially easy for anyone with a compromised immune system, people undergoing chemo, etc. to catch this infection.
3. Toxoplasmosis: this is a disease caused by the Toxoplasma gondii, which is often found in garden soil and raw meat. Cats can become infected with this parasite by catching and/or eating infected prey animals. People can become infected by coming into contact with cat feces, though it’s most common in humans after handling infected raw or undercooked meat, drinking water from a contaminated source or from working in the garden after cats have defecated in the dirt.
4. Cat Scratch Disease: also known as Cat Scratch Fever, this infection is caused by a bacteria called Bartonella henselae. About 40% of cats carry these bacteria in their saliva—that’s a huge surprise! Cats usually show no signs of illness, as they are only the carrier of this infection. People can catch this infection after being bitten or scratched by a cat who is a carrier. You can also catch this disease just by petting an infected cat, as their saliva acts as the spreading agent for this bacteria.
5. Cryptosporidium infection: is another parasitic disease that people can catch after contact with a cat’s feces, or even from the feces of a dog. In humans, the symptoms of this infection may include fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Most people will not need medical treatment for this infection; however, those who have a compromised immune system could face a deadly version of this infection.
How to Prevent Transmission of Infections from Pet to Human
If you’re not sick to your stomach after reading about all of these zoonotic infections, then we’re impressed! It’s not easy reading, but the information is important to keep you, your family and your pet healthy.
How do you prevent the transmission of these horrible infections from your pet to you and your family?
- Take your pet for a checkup once a year—see the vet and make sure your pet has received all their vaccinations, etc.
- Pick up animal feces in the yard and keep your cat’s litterbox clean every day. Keeping the litterbox and yard clean will make it more difficult for parasites to get into your yard, infecting you and your pets.
- Wash your hands after handling your pets, their dishes, their cages, litterboxes, etc. We can’t stress this enough. Washing your hands is truly the number one way to avoid these and other nasty infections.
We hope you’ve made it to the end of this article, even if it was difficult to read. The information here can help keep your pets, you and your family healthy. With just a few easy methods, you can keep these and other infections at bay, while enjoying time spent with your favorite pets.