Pets share a lot with their owners, from cuddles and kisses, to joy and laughter, to companionship. However, your pet may also share some less-than-pleasant things—like zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases are illnesses that can be transmitted from animals to people, and they can have serious consequences for both species. Rabies is probably the most infamous zoonotic disease, but many other conditions can also leap from cats and dogs to their human families. 

Not only can your furry pal harbor infectious diseases, they can also carry parasites that can jump to you. Fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites can also serve as a disease source, although your pet does not directly transmit the infection to you. When you consider the diseases that you and your pet must be protected against, keep in mind these five most common zoonotic diseases.

Pets to people #1: Intestinal parasites

Intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, giardia, and toxoplasma, are primarily transmitted from pets to people via the fecal-oral route, which means that cleaning up after your pet and failing to wash your hands can cause an infection. A hookworm infection is transmitted directly through your skin, so you can be exposed to these worms by walking barefoot across contaminated soil, or working in the yard without gloves. This parasite typically causes a localized, swollen, and itchy skin reaction. The other zoonotic parasites tend to cause diarrhea and vomiting, while toxoplasma can also cause a mild fever, headaches, birth defects, or miscarriages. However, good hygiene practices and proper parasite prevention can greatly reduce your risk of contracting an intestinal parasite from your pet.

Pets to people #2: Rabies

Rabies is a zoonotic disease that is primarily transmitted through saliva when an infected animal bites. This disease can affect any mammal, and is fatal in animals. A person who is bitten by a rabid animal can be treated immediately with a post-exposure vaccination series and a rabies immunoglobulin injection, but there is no effective treatment for people once signs develop. Rabies often starts with flu-like symptoms that progress to neurologic dysfunction and can lead to anxiety, agitation, confusion, hallucinations, hydrophobia, and insomnia. Once these clinical signs appear, which can take weeks or months, the disease is almost always fatal. Fortunately, rabies risk in the United States has been virtually eliminated because of strict vaccination protocols.

Pets to people #3: Sarcoptic mange

Commonly called scabies, sarcoptic mange differs from demodectic mange in that it can be transmitted from animals to people. Sarcoptic mites burrow into the skin and cause intense itching, thickened skin, and hair loss. People in close contact with a pet with sarcoptic mange can get scabies, but the itchy rash that develops may resolve without treatment. However, regular use of most flea and tick preventives often prevents sarcoptic mange in pets.

Pets to people #4: Ringworm

Despite its name, ringworm is not a worm. Instead, it’s a fungal skin infection that is capable of affecting people and most animals. Ringworm is spread by contact with an affected animal or person, or with a contaminated environment or surface, such as a pet’s bedding. In people, the fungus often causes red, scaly, itchy circular lesions, whereas pets lose their hair in and around the lesions.

Ringworm is fairly easy to treat with antifungal medications, and is generally not a serious condition. However, ringworm can be hard to get rid of once it starts spreading among the pets and people in the household. The young, elderly, and immune-compromised are at the greatest risk.

Pets to people #5: Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis, or lepto, is a bacterial disease that typically spreads through the urine of rodents and other infected animals. Pets and people can contract the disease through contact with contaminated water and soil, or via direct contact with an infected animal’s urine. Lepto in people often begins with flu-like symptoms, but can progress and affect major organs, especially the liver and kidneys. Help prevent exposure by having your dog vaccinated against leptospirosis.

The best way to keep your pet and your family safe from zoonotic diseases is through regular preventive care. Contact your primary care veterinarian to schedule a wellness visit to keep your pet up to date on vaccinations and parasite prevention. If you suspect your furry pal has developed an illness that may be infectious, don’t delay, and contact our team at AIMSS for urgent care.