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Infections that Pets Can Spread to Humans

It is estimated that over 60% of the US owns a pet. Many studies have confirmed the precious roles of pets in human life. Evidence has shown that owning a pet can increase the activity of pet owners and consequently reduce serum cholesterol, low triglyceride levels, and fewer cardiovascular events (4,5). Also, some other studies demonstrated that pet owners suffer from depression and mental stress less and have higher self-esteem compared to others.

Although dogs have several positive effects on the psychosocial and psychical health of their owners, many diseases among humans are attributed to them(6). Up to 50% of dogs are infected with one or more intestinal parasites.(1) Several studies demonstrated that domestic dogs have a dramatic role in developing zoonoses disease and hospitalization(7,8). Cats, birds, rodents, fish, reptiles, and exotic pets also put their owners at risk. Despite the significant number of afflicted animals, humans are rarely infected and when they are they are often not recognized. The very young, the very old, and the immunocompromised are at the greatest risk of developing a symptomatic infection,

Zoonoses are diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. It is estimated that 75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonoses.(2) We are going to focus on diseases transmitted by household pets. There are over 200 known types of zoonotic diseases and they are the root cause of a large percentage of new and existing diseases in humans.

How Do Pets Spread Infections?

Just like humans, animals carry germs. Illnesses common among house pets like distemper, canine parvovirus, and heartworms can't spread to people. But some types of bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi can spread from our pets to humans. This can happen through waste, dander, saliva, or a scratch/bite. Infants, kids younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems have a greater chance of getting sick from these.

What are the most common Zoonoses?

Dog and cat infections that can be transferred and how they will present:

  • Campylobacter infection: In people, this bacterial infection causes diarrhea, belly pain, and fever.

  • Cat scratch disease: It is usually self-limited. Signs of this bacterial infection include swelling at the site of the skin lesion and lymphadenopathy, fever, and weight loss.

  • Cryptosporidiosis: In people, Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, low-grade fever, anorexia, and headache may last 2 to 12 weeks.

  • Diseases carried by ticks: Tick-borne diseases can happen when ticks attach to pets outdoors. Use tick prevention products on pets and safely remove and dispose of ticks as soon as possible.

    • Some of the most common tick-borne diseases in the United States include: Lyme disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, anaplasmosis, Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever, and tularemia.

  • Giardiasis: Infection is most often asymptomatic, but patients may experience diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fatigue.

  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA): Approximately one-third of healthy humans are colonized with MRSA, with asymptomatic colonization being more common than infection. Symptoms include skin and soft tissue infection, osteomyelitis, endocarditis, pneumonia, and sepsis.

  • Rabies: This serious illness is rare thanks to the widespread immunization of dogs and cats in the United States.

  • Ringworm: Kids can get ringworm from touching infected dogs and cats. This can cause a dry, scaly round area with a raised red bumpy border and a clear center.

  • Salmonellosis: The most widespread bacterial zoonotic infection and it is one of the most common causes of bacterial gastroenteritis. In people, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours after exposure.

  • Scabies: Symptoms include itching and papular rash,

  • Toxocariasis: The eggs of a parasitic roundworm in the intestines of dogs and cats can pass from their poop into soil where kids play. An infected child can have a fever, cough or wheezing, enlarged liver, rash, or swollen lymph nodes.

  • Toxoplasmosis: There are approximately 60 million people infected with this in the United States.(2) Cats are the primary reservoir; however, dogs may be an indirect vector of toxoplasmosis, because of their tendency to roll in feces and animal remains.(3) An infection from a parasite found in cat poop usually causes no symptoms in healthy people but can cause serious problems for pregnant women and their unborn babies. So pregnant women and people with weak immune systems should not clean litter boxes.

Here is a complete list of diseases that can spread between animals and people.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Link:

How can we care for our pets and keep our families safe?

Here are some tips to help your family safely care for pets:

  • After you choose a family pet, take it to a veterinarian for vaccinations and an exam. Schedule regular checkups and routine vaccinations for your pet as recommended. This will keep your pet healthy and lower the chances that it can spread an infection to your family. Call us today to schedule a new family pet exam!

  • Teach your children to wash their hands after touching pets, handling your pet's food, or cleaning your pet's cage, tank, or litter box. Wear gloves when cleaning up animal waste. If you have a bird, wear a dust mask over your nose and mouth when cleaning the cage or coop. Don't let kids clean cages or litter boxes until they’re older and know how to do this safely and responsibly.

  • Remind family members to avoid kissing or touching your pet’s mouth because infections can spread through saliva.

  • Keep your pet's living area clean and free of waste. If your pet goes outdoors, pick up waste regularly and don't let kids play in that area.

  • If possible, keep pets out of areas where food is prepared or handled, and don't bathe your pet or clean aquariums in the kitchen sink or bathtub. Wash your pet outdoors or consider professional pet grooming.

  • Never adopt a wild animal as a pet.

  • Watch kids carefully around pets. Young kids are more likely to catch infections from pets because they crawl around on the floor with the animals, kiss them or share food with them, and put their fingers and things in their mouths that may be contaminated.

Talk to your doctor if you have questions about infections from pets. If you have concerns about your pet’s health, give us a call today! 904-436- PETS (7387)


1. Meredith JT. Zoonotic infections. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Strapczynski JS, et al, eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2004.

2. Souza MJ. Bacterial and parasitic zoonoses of exotic pets. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract. 2009;12:401-415.

3. Rabinowitz PM, Gordon Z, Odofin L. Pet-related infections. Am Fam Physician. 2007;76:1314-1322.

4. Katagiri S, Oliveira-Sequeira T. Prevalence of dog intestinal parasites and risk perception of zoonotic infection by dog owners in São Paulo State, Brazil. Zoonoses and Public Health. 2008;55(8-10):406–413. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

5. Talan DA, Citron DM, Abrahamian FM, Moran GJ, Goldstein EJ. Bacteriologic analysis of infected dog and cat bites. New England Journal of Medicine. 1999;340(2):85–92. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

6. Beth Tower R, Nokota M. Pet companionship and depression: results from a United States Internet sample. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals. 2006;19(1):50–64. [Google Scholar]

7. Vengust M, Anderson M, Rousseau J, Weese J. Methicillin-resistant staphylococcal colonization in clinically normal dogs and horses in the community. Letters in Applied Microbiology. 2006;43(6):602–606. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

8. Moriello KA. Zoonotic skin diseases of dogs and cats. Animal Health Research Reviews. 2003;4(02):157–168. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]


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