Diseases which can be transferred from animals to humans are known as zoonotic diseases. Humans can acquire these infections through a variety of means including airborne pathogens or through bites and saliva.
Pet parents should take proper hygienic measures when exposed to animals with these kinds of infections, though some individuals are more at risk than others. These include people with autoimmune diseases; those suffering from chronic, underlying illnesses; cancer patients and pregnant females, among others.
1. Rabies: a fatal disease transmitted by the bite of infected animals such as dogs and bats. Worldwide, more than 59,000 people die annually from rabies infections. Here in the US it is extremely rare thanks to stringent animal control measures – all dogs, cats, and ferrets are required by law to be vaccinated (and revaccinated) against rabies. If your dog is bitten by a stray or unknown dog, they might be at risk of developing the disease. The suspected dog should be watched for a period of at least 10 days (depending upon local public health laws regarding rabies and dog bites) to see if shows any abnormal signs like excessive chewing, ferociousness, or increased salivation. Consult your vet who can provide a post-bite vaccination schedule and can provide information regarding local and state public health laws involving rabies exposure and suspect rabies animals.
2. Toxoplasmosis: a parasitic disease transmitted from cats to humans, especially pregnant women (causing mother-to-fetus transmission). Most healthy people who become infected show few if any signs, though flu-like symptoms (fever, aches and pains) are most common. Cats acquire the infection by eating infected raw meat or rodents and excrete the pathogen in their feces. For this reason, pregnant women are warned not to clean cat’s litter boxes and to avoid feeding raw meat to their kitties (freezing the meat for 3 days kills the pathogen). It is best to wear rubber gloves while cleaning your cat’s litter tray. It should be noted, however, that Toxoplasma can be transmitted in water and can be foodborne, so caution against this agent, as with most zoonotic pathogens, extends beyond just pet care.
3. Cryptosporidiosis: individuals can acquire this parasitic disease by coming into contact with contaminated substances including water, soil, or uncooked food. Infected pets shed the organism in their feces and contaminate surrounding water sources. Symptoms include frequent, watery diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, dehydration, headache, etc. If you observe that your pet is having severe diarrhea kindly consult a vet to ensure safety of both your family and your furry friend.
4. Leptospirosis: a bacterial disease in dogs which can be transferred to humans by coming into contact with an infected dog’s urine. Dogs acquire the disease by swimming in, playing in or drinking contaminated water. Signs noticed in humans are high fever, headache, bleeding, muscle pain, chills, red eyes and vomiting. Leptospirosis resolves with proper treatment and, to help prevent at-risk dogs from catching the disease, effective vaccines are readily available. For more information, please check out our leptospirosis blog.
5. Roundworms: are the most common of the parasitic worms and affect many dogs, especially when they are puppies. They are most commonly transmitted to puppies via the mother’s milk, so even puppies who have not eaten anything other than mother’s milk can shed roundworms in their feces. Roundworms live inside the infected pet’s intestines, causing diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss. Pets pass roundworms in their feces and children can catch the infection by playing in contaminated mud or soil, causing vomiting and diarrhea. In people, the roundworms tend to get “lost” and migrate to places such as under the skin, the anterior chamber of the eye, or the abdominal viscera. To prevent possible infections, restrict children from playing in areas where pets frequently defecate and have your pets dewormed at regular intervals.