From Pets to People: Zoonotic Diseases

Young woman laying on bed snuggling with her dogWhen it comes to illness, most of us probably don’t think about quarantining our pets. In general, diseases stay within one host species, but zoonotic diseases can be passed between animals and people, and so they bear special attention.

Every year, tens of thousands of Americans will get sick from zoonoses. They are very common and the effects can range from mild sickness to death. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid and prevent these illnesses. Below, The Maywood Veterinary Clinic explores the causes and the prevention of zoonotic diseases.

From A to Zoonotic

Zoonotic diseases can be found in many different types of animals, both wild and domestic. They are caused by germs in bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. Because of the close connection between pets and people, it’s important to understand how zoonotic diseases are transmitted.

  • Direct contact – Coming into contact with blood, saliva, urine, or feces of an infected animal
  • Indirect contact – Coming into contact with an area where pets live or animals roam, such as feces or urine in soil, chicken coops, and food and water bowls
  • Vector-borne – Vectors, including flea, tick, and mosquitos bites, are transmitters of zoonotic disease
  • Foodborne – Eating something that transmits disease, such as undercooked meat or unwashed fruits and vegetables

Who Is at a Higher Risk for Zoonotic Disease?

Everyone is vulnerable to zoonotic disease, and even healthy people can get sick, but the CDC lists the following groups as those who should be especially vigilant:

  • Immunosuppressed people, such as those with cancer
  • Children under 5 years
  • Adults over 65 years

This doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy our pets, however. Let’s explore simple steps to prevent and avoid zoonotic diseases.

Common Zoonotic Diseases in Pets

Many animals carry zoonotic diseases. In pets, there are relatively few to be aware of. Below are the diseases that we work hard to prevent:

  • Toxoplasmosis – Cats carry this parasite that can be spread in their feces and cause birth defects
  • Rabies – Still common in many parts of the world, rabies is deadly to humans
  • Leptospirosis – A bacterial infection spread through the urine of an infected dog
  • Lyme Disease – A serious disease transmitted through a tick bite
  • Roundworms – An intestinal parasite in pets
  • Hookworms – An intestinal parasite in pets, which can bore through skin and cause a rash
  • Cat scratch disease – Bartonella organisms found in flea feces that can get into the body through scratches or open wounds

Preventing Zoonotic Disease

Here are some precautions to take to prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases in your family.

  • Maintain annual veterinary wellness exams
  • Vaccinate on schedule against leptospirosis and rabies
  • Prevent parasites by using year-round monthly preventatives
  • Check for ticks after being outdoors
  • Wash hands after handling pets and animals
  • Wash wounds immediately
  • Wear gloves when gardening
  • Keep pets indoors to discourage hunting
  • Don’t feed your pets raw meat
  • Clean cat litter boxes daily, wearing gloves, and wash hands afterward
  • Cover children’s sandboxes when not in use

Zoonotic diseases are a serious problem, but the good news is that we can prevent them by staying informed and taking precautions.

Contact us if you have questions about zoonoses, or if you wish to schedule an appointment. Regular wellness care for your pet is the best way to prevent zoonotic disease, as well as keep your pets happy and healthy.