Can You Get Sick from Your Pet?

February 21, 2014

Welcoming a new pet into the home is an exciting prospect for most. Numerous studies have shown that interacting with a furry, feathered, or finned friend can reduce stress, entertain, and provide companionship.
Although it is rare to get sick from a pet, it is possible to contract a bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic illnesses if proper hygiene measures are not followed. Infections transmitted from animals can cause a variety of symptoms such as muscle aches, flu-like symptoms, diarrhea, skin rashes, and fever. Children under the age of 5, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems such as cancer patients, organ transplant patients, and patients infected with the HIV virus have an increased risk of contracting an animal-borne illness.
It is important for all pet owners to learn about various infections that may affect their pets and how these illnesses can be transmitted to humans. Some infections to be mindful of are listed below.
Campylobacteriosis – Campylobacteriosis is a bacterial disease affecting the gastrointestinal tract that is spread through contact with infected feces from puppies, kittens, dogs and cats. Symptoms in humans include mild to severe diarrhea, cramps, nausea and vomiting. Animals do not always appear ill when they have Campylobacteriosis.
Cat Scratch Fever – Cat scratch disease (CSD) is caused by a strain of bacteria called Bartonella henselae. Symptoms include a mild infection around a scratch or bite, swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, fatigue, and lack of appetite. Cats or kittens carrying this bacteria typically do not display any signs of illness.
Hookworm – Hookworm infections are caused by parasites and are more commonly found in younger animals like puppies or kittens. Hookworm eggs pass into animal feces where they can hatch into larvae. If soil contaminated with eggs or larvae is accidently ingested or is tread upon with bare feet, a person can contract a hookworm infection. Symptoms of hookworm can include a painful, itchy skin rash, abdominal pain, or blood in bowel movements. Many individuals with hookworm are asymptomatic.
Psittacosis – Psittacosis is a rare bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci. Pet birds, such as parakeets and parrots, are the most common causes of psittacosis in humans, although all birds can carry Chlamydia psittaci. Psittacosis occurs when dried secretions from infected birds are inhaled. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and dry cough. Complications from psittacosis such as pneumonia, endocarditis, and hepatitis can be life threatening.
Rabies - Rabies is a potentially deadly viral disease transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Most states require pets to be vaccinated, protecting them from developing this infection in the event they are bitten by a rabid wild animal. Any individual bitten by a dog, cat or ferret whose rabies vaccination status is unknown or not up to date should consult a medical professional for a comprehensive assessment immediately.
Ringworm - Ringworm is caused by fungi transmitted directly from a pet’s skin or fur. It causes an itchy, ring-shaped rash on the skin. Ringworm can be spread through contact with kittens, puppies, dogs, cats, horses, and livestock animals.
Salmonellosis – Salmonellosis is caused by the bacterium Salmonella. It can be passed to people from a variety of infected pets including dogs, cats, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and rodents. Salmonella spreads through feces, which can contaminate fur, feathers, scales, and environmental habitats such as animal bedding or aquarium water. People handling infected pets or components an infected pet’s environment are at the highest risk of developing Salmonellosis. Symptoms of this illness include diarrhea and fever.
Toxoplasmosis – This is a parasite passed to people through contact with contaminated cat feces. Symptoms include flu-like symptoms, swollen glands, and muscle aches. Pregnant women must avoid all contact with cat feces including cleaning litter boxes. If a pregnant woman develops toxoplasmosis, this infection can infect the fetus causing serious malformations and possible miscarriage.
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Tips for protecting yourself against animal-borne illnesses

  • Wear gloves when cleaning up pet waste.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and running water immediately after coming into contact with pet feces or saliva.
  • Clean all scratches and bites from pets with running water and soap.
  • Use antibacterial household cleansers to disinfect counters, sinks, floors, or other surfaces that may have come into contact with pet waste or saliva.
  • Keep your pet’s recommended vaccinations up to date. Discuss what additional ongoing measures are needed to optimize the health of your pet with your veterinarian.
  • If your pet exhibits any signs of illness, take them to a veterinarian.
  • Alert your local animal control agency if you notice stray animals on your property or elsewhere in your community.
  • Avoid walking barefoot outdoors.
  • If your pet is bitten by a wild animal, have them assessed by a veterinarian immediately.
  • Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of stray and unwanted pets
  • Never approach a wild animal. If you are bitten by a wild animal, seek medical attention immediately.
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