Sharing is caring is not always the best concept to follow, especially when it comes to zoonotic diseases and your pet. Zoonotic diseases are those that can be transmitted from animals to people, and more illnesses are zoonotic than you might think. The most common zoonotic disease that comes to mind is rabies, but your furry pal can directly or indirectly give you a host of other conditions. 

What common zoonotic diseases can my pet spread?

Pets, like children, can be excellent illness vectors, capable of spreading a variety of infectious diseases. Some of the more common zoonotic diseases and their associated causes your pet can transmit include:

  • Rabies — A disease that ultimately proves fatal in animals, rabies is a preventable condition that attacks the nervous system and can lead to death in people if not treated in time.
  • Leptospirosis — An infectious illness spread by wildlife urine, pets and people can become infected through contaminated soil and water and experience kidney and liver failure. If caught early enough, aggressive fluid therapy and antibiotics can be life-saving.
  • Ringworm — Unlike other “worms,” ringworm is a fungus that infects the skin. This itchy condition is highly contagious, and can jump from species to species in your household.
  • Intestinal parasites — Intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, and giardia, can also infect people, since pets shed the parasite eggs in their stool. While these parasitic infections typically aren’t life-threatening, they can cause severe diarrhea, painful tracts under the skin, and eye and neurologic problems.
  • External parasites — Fleas and ticks fall into the external parasite category, and while they’re not technically zoonotic diseases, your pet can carry these pests into your home. Fleas are responsible for tapeworm infections, cat scratch disease, murine typhus, and the plague. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and many more conditions that can cause lifelong illness.

How are zoonotic diseases spread between pets and people?

Zoonotic diseases can spread through multiple methods, including:

  • Blood or saliva — Rabies is a frightening disease, but can be transmitted only through blood or saliva (e.g., from a penetrating bite or by licking an open wound). 
  • Urine — Leptospirosis is transmitted through infected animals’ urine, which can be present in soil or water. If your pet develops leptospirosis and accidentally urinates on the floor, you can become infected during the clean-up.
  • Skin-to-skin contact — Don’t worry— snuggling your pet won’t automatically transmit a zoonotic disease, although some diseases, like ringworm, can be spread through skin-to-skin contact. Some parasites, like fleas and ticks, can jump and crawl from your furry pal to you, but they usually prefer your pet. And, intestinal parasites like hookworms can penetrate the skin of your feet as you walk through contaminated soil.
  • Fecal-oral route — Intestinal parasites shed eggs as your pet defecates, and that fecal material can become loaded with infectious parasitic eggs. By inadvertently consuming tiny amounts of contaminated feces, you can become infected with intestinal parasites. Children are most at risk for parasitic infection, since they’re most likely to dig and play in the dirt, and then stick their hands in their mouths.

How can I protect my pet and my family from zoonotic diseases?

Zoonotic diseases can be deadly, so prevention is vital for keeping your pet and your family safe. Use a three-pronged attack with the following prevention methods:

  • Vaccinations — Vaccinations are essential for preventing your pet from contracting a disease they can then pass to you. Ensure your four-legged friend stays current on important vaccinations, like rabies and leptospirosis, to prevent disease spread.
  • Parasite prevention — Parasites, including fleas, ticks, and intestinal worms, can be spread by hitching a ride on your pet. However, monthly parasite prevention can keep your pet pest- and disease-free, and ultimately protect your entire family.
  • Good hygiene — Practicing good hygiene will also help keep your family safe from zoonotic diseases. Wash your hands after handling or cleaning up after your pet to reduce contamination potential.

Zoonotic diseases are a serious health threat to your pet, your family, and your community. However, you can help prevent the spread of infectious disease by practicing good hygiene and keeping your pet current on all essential vaccinations. Contact your University Veterinary Hospital team to ensure your furry pal’s vaccinations are not overdue.