A Zoonotic disease also known as zoonoses is an infection or disease that can be transmitted from an animal to a human. As pet parents we should be made aware of what these look like so we can avoid catching something from our pets.
Altogether there are over one hundred diseases that are capable of being transmitted from animals to humans. All domestic animals including pets, cats, birds, horses, cows, sheep, goats, and rabbits can potentially spread diseases to people, but rarely does this occur. If pet owners exercise basic hygiene principles, most importantly good hand washing, then most of these potential diseases can be avoided.
Current evidence supports the fact that pets pose a minimal zoonotic risk to their humans. Risk may be slightly higher in people with a compromised immune system though. Some that may be at higher risk include:
- people with AIDS/HIV.
- people on chemotherapy or receiving radiation therapy.
- people who are elderly or have chronic diseases.
- people with congenital immune deficiencies.
- people who have received organ or bone marrow transplants.
- pregnant women (the fetal immune system is not fully developed, and the pregnant woman's immune system is altered during pregnancy).
If you fall into one of these categories, it simply means that you should take some precautions. We recommend monitoring your pet for any signs of illness, always washing your hands after handling them, and avoiding direct contact with their feces or urine.
Here is a list of the most common zoonotic diseases that our pets may experience:
- Lyme disease
- campylobacter infection
- Giardia infection
- cryptosporidium infection
- harvest mites
When asked which zoonotic disease is most likely to cause a serious illness in people, we immediately think of Rabies. Rabies, which is caused by a virus, is almost always fatal in humans.
Certain infectious organisms, such as the bacteria Salmonella and Campylobacter and the protozoan disease caused by Giardia, can cause severe gastroenteritis if passed from your pet to you.
Leptospirosis, also known as Weil's disease in people, can cause severe liver and kidney disease. Thankfully the transmission from pets to humans is rare and humans usually contract this disease not from their pet, but from exposure to contaminated water.
Roundworms (Toxocara canis) and tapeworms (Echinococcus species) can cause liver problems, but illness in people from these are rare. Handling your infected pet’s feces without protection can cause an infection of roundworms in a susceptible person. Echinococcus tapeworm infections are starting to become more common in areas of Canada and the United States whereas before they had not even been recognized.
Zoonotic skin diseases including ringworm, caused by the fungus Microsporum canis and scabies, caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei, Cheyletiella mites, and harvest mites (Trombicula species) are transmitted pretty easily to people through direct contact.
As you can see there are many reasons to stay protected as a pet parent. You may be wondering, well how can I reduce my risk of contracting one of these diseases from my beloved pet?
Simple hygiene and common sense will drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the risk of zoonotic disease spread from pets to people. Some precautions you can take do include:
- Making sure that any sign or symptoms of illness or disease in your pet is diagnosed and treated promptly by your veterinarian. If your pet is sick, make sure you wash your hands after making contact with them..
- Bathing and grooming your pet. This will help increase the chances of early detection by looking for any skin lesions.
- Giving your pet a broad-spectrum deworming product on a regular basis. The simplest way to do this is to use a monthly heartworm product that includes a dewormer. Please be sure to discuss your options with your veterinarian.
- Wearing gloves when gardening or working in areas where pets, cats, or other animals may have urinated or defecated to keep yourself protected.
- Picking up any feces on your property. Also be sure to always pick up your pet’s feces when taking them for a walk and properly dispose of all waste materials promptly and efficiently.
- Not allowing your children to make contact with your pet's feces and on the other hand, don’t allow your pet to make contact with your children's feces.
- Ensuring you wash your hands after handling any animal, always.
- Provide separate food and water dishes for your pet, and wash and store them separately from your family's dishes to avoid cross contamination.
- Washing pet bedding as frequently as possible.
- Using a flea and tick control product consistently, and on a routine basis.
Following the above precautions guarantee that you have done everything you can as a pet parent to reduce any risk to you and your family.