How to Avoid Catching Diseases From Your Pet

January 18, 2016 | Reece Alvarez

Jack Russell Terrier licking a child's face
Photo credit: Hector Landaeta. Image has been cropped.

Pets and humans can share more than just affection, diseases can also cross species, here are some to watch out for.

People and pets share a profound bond, but more than just love can be shared among the two. Everyday contact like cuddling your cat or cleaning up after your dog can be possible points of contamination and potential illness.

Salmonella, E. coli, and roundworms are among the nearly 20 different diseases that people most commonly acquire from pets, said Jason Stull, assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State University. Infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with limited immune function are most at risk for animal-borne, or zoonotic, diseases.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than half of U.S. households have a pet. For cat and dog owners, who often come into contact with their pets and share personal spaces with them, there are a some common zoonotic diseases that pet owners should be aware of.

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Toxocariasis is a disease caused by roundworms, parasites commonly found in cats and dogs. Animals transmit the disease through larvae in their feces, which can contaminate areas both indoors and outdoors. Humans, particularly children who play in areas like sand boxes or who often put unwashed hands in their mouths, can contract the disease.

Infection can cause fever, coughing and abdominal pain and may affect the eyes, impairing vision, causing swelling, and possibly damaging the retina.

Most cases go undiagnosed and do not cause problems because the roundworm larvae cannot mature in humans and the disease will generally resolve without treatment.

Ringworm, which usually results in itchy and painful rashes, is a skin disease caused by a fungus and does not actually involve any type of worm. Ringworm is transmitted by direct contact with an animal that is infected, but fortunately can be easily be treated with topical or oral anti-fungal medications.

Another critter that can jump from pets to people is Giardia, a small, intestinal parasite that is relatively common in dogs, cats, and humans.

Giardia is transmitted by ingesting contaminated feces so proper hygiene after walking your dog or cleaning the litter box is key here.

Symptoms are the same in pets as they are in people and can include severe stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and other intestinal issues. Some animals and people may have this disease with no symptoms at all. Symptoms can disappear by themselves after two to three days, but in people who have immune system problems, this infection could be fatal.

Though the risk factor of contracting Giardia from your pet is thought to be small, it is possible.

Good hygiene is enough to prevent transmission of Giardia. If your pet has diarrhea, veterinarians recommend bringing your animal in for a checkup as soon as possible. In humans, Giardia can often be treated with oral medication.

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General recommendations from the University of Ohio for reducing transmission of infection, particularly in people with susceptible immune systems include:

• wearing protective gloves to clean aquariums and cages and remove feces

• proper handwashing after pet contact

• discouraging pets from face licking

• covering playground boxes when not in use

• avoiding contact with higher risk animals such as reptiles, amphibians, and exotic animals

• regular cleaning and disinfection of animal cages, feeding areas, and bedding

• locating litter boxes away from areas where eating and food prep occur

• waiting to acquire a new pet until immune status has improved

• regularly scheduled veterinary visits for all pets

Handwashing after contact with pets is among the most commonly recommended suggestions for preventing infections from animals.

Sources: Ohio State University and

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