Can Your Pet Make You Sick?
by Debra Wood, RN
Faithful felines and devoted dogs provide innumerable benefits to their owners, but sometimes they can spread infections to humans. There are several steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of contracting an infection from your pet.
With millions pets in US homes, transmission of an infectious disease from pet to owner can occur. However, common sense and proper veterinary care can keep these occurrences relatively low.
Most animal diseases are treatable, even avoidable. If your pet gets sick it is important to get prompt treatment.
Many infectious diseases tend to be specific to certain species. However, bacteria or parasites that live harmlessly or cause limited disease in one species may cause more serious illness in another.
What Can Pets Pass Along?
Animal bites and scratches can present serious problems for people. If a wound is not cleaned and dressed properly or if medical care is not provided, the person is more likely to get an infection. Infections that may be passed from pets to people include:
Cat Scratch Fever
Cat scratch fever is caused by bacteria carried by healthy kittens and cats. Cat scratch fever results after a cat scratches the skin, bites, or licks an open sore. About a week later, the point of contact develops a raised bump. Other symptoms may occur, like fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, or headache. Serious complications, like a high fever or pneumonia, may result.
Another infection that can result from contact with cats, toxoplasmosis, poses the most danger to unborn children of women who do not have immunity or antibodies to the agent. Cats harboring the parasite may not show any symptoms, but will shed spores in their stool. The spores can become infectious within a 1-2 days.
Effects of toxoplasmosis on the fetus depends on gestational age. Pregnancy complications include miscarriage or stillbirth. The newborn infant is also at risk of having severe mental disabilites, cataracts, and hearing loss.
Gastroenteritis can trigger diarrhea, fever, headache, and abdominal pain. Bacterial infections of the intestine from bacteria occur most often after people ingest contaminated food or beverages. However, this infection can also be passed from pets to humans.
Giardiasis is spread through ingestion of water or food that has been contaminated by stool containing a specific organism. Giardia is one of the most common intestinal parasites of both pets and humans in the US. Giardiasis causes gastrointesinal symptoms, including diarrhea, bloating, nausea, and abdominal pain.
Ringworm is an itchy, fungal skin infection that can occur after contact with an infected pet.
Roundworms and Hookworms
These intestinal parasites can make the move to people through contact with contaminated dirt. Dirt is contaminated by stool from an infected dog or cat. Roundworms are not infectious right away. They need to develop in the soil for a couple of weeks. While hookworms enter the feet and cause intense itching, ingested roundworm eggs can make their way to organs and lead to serious complications. Symptoms include abdominal pain, gas, nausea, headache, and fatigue.
In pregnant women, hookworms are associated with premature birth and low birth weight.
A bite from an infected animal can cause rabies. You can eliminate this risk by having your pets vaccinated against rabies.
Take these steps to decrease the risk of getting an infection from your pet:
Taking good care of your pets is the key to having a disease-free home.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Humane Society
Public Health Agency of Canada
Cat-scratch disease. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115241/Cat-scratch-disease. Updated December 13, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2017.
Day MJ. Pet-related infections. Am Fam Physician. 2016;94(10):794-802.
Giardiasis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113949/Giardiasis. Updated April 27, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2017.
Guidelines for the prevention and treatment of opportunistic infection in HIV-infected adults and adolescents. Appendix A. Recommendations to help HIV-infected patients avoid exposure to, or infection from, opportunistic pathogens. Available at: https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/guidelines/html/4/adult-and-adolescent-oi-prevention-and-treatment-guidelines/362/appendix-a--preventing-exposure. Updated May 7, 2013. Accessed July 10, 2017.
Toxoplasmosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114869/Toxoplasmosis. Updated April 27, 2017. Accessed July 10, 2017.
Last reviewed June 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 7/10/2017
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