When your pet is sick, do you worry that you or your family could catch the same illness—or, vice versa? Given how close we are with our pets—literally and figuratively—these are legitimate concerns. Therefore, the Bayview Animal Hospital team shares important information about zoonotic diseases and steps you can take to reduce infection risk to help ensure the whole family stays healthy.

Not all pet diseases can be spread to people

Infection spread from pets is not common among healthy adults or children who practice good, basic hygiene. Still, we understand that many pet owners are concerned about disease transmission. First the good news. Here are some common pet diseases that cannot be spread to people:

  • Common colds — Several viruses can cause upper respiratory issues in cats and dogs that are contagious to other pets, but not to people. 
  • Parvovirus — Parvovirus, or parvo,  is a life-threatening viral infection—but non-zoonotic—that affects mostly puppies, adolescent dogs, and unvaccinated adult dogs. Parvo is primarily passed by the fecal-oral route, because infected animals shed viral particles through their stool. Parvo can survive on inanimate objects (e.g., clothing, shoes, dog toys, food bowls, and leashes) that stay at a stable temperature for up to six months. 
  • Heartworm disease — Heartworms are transmitted to pets through a mosquito bite. The baby heartworms (i.e., microfilariae) spend six months maturing as they travel through the pet’s bloodstream to the heart and lungs. Although heartworms can be passed to people, we are not their preferred host, and the larval worms quickly die without causing harm.
  • Kennel cough — Kennel cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease that causes tracheal and bronchial inflammation in dogs. The infection is spread among dogs when a dog directly contacts an infected dog, inhales infectious airborne droplets, or contacts objects or surfaces contaminated with infectious agents. Bordetella bronchiseptica—one of many pathogens that can cause kennel cough—can infect humans with weakened immune systems, but cases are extremely rare.

Common zoonotic pet diseases

Zoonotic diseases are those that can be passed among animals and people, and can be viral, fungal, bacterial, or parasitic. The most common zoonotic pet diseases include:

  • Rabies The rabies virus is an acute, progressive disease that moves through the nervous system to the brain. While rarely spread from pets to humans—and more often spread by wildlife—once signs appear, the virus is always fatal in pets and people. Signs progress from fever, weakness, inappetence, and breathing difficulties to severe abnormal behavior and paralysis.
  • Ringworm — Ringworm is a fungal disease transmitted through direct contact with an infected pet or person, or a contaminated object or surface. Many animals—most commonly dogs, cats, pigs, horses, cows, and goats—can be affected by ringworm, and can pass the disease to people via direct contact. Ringworm may manifest on pets as bald spots with scaling, crusting, and red skin, but can be difficult to detect. In people, ringworm lesions are more obvious red, circular patches on the skin or scaly spots on the scalp.
  • Leptospirosis — The bacteria that cause leptospirosis, or lepto, is spread through infected animals’ urine, and can survive in water or soil for weeks to months. Pets usually contract this disease by drinking or swimming in a contaminated body of water. ​​People can contract leptospirosis through contact with infected animals’ urine, or from contaminated water, soil, or food. Without treatment, leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress, and sometimes death.
  • Roundworms —  Roundworms are the most common intestinal parasite in pets. The ingested roundworm larvae grow into adults in the pet’s intestines and are shed in their stool and can infect humans who directly contact the contaminated fecal matter.
  • Giardia — Pets and people can contract Giardia—an intestinal parasite— through contaminated water, and people can become infected through contact with an infected pet’s feces. Infection signs in pets and people and pets include diarrhea, gas, abdominal discomfort, nausea, and vomiting. However, some infected people and pets show no illness signs. 
  • Sarcoptic mange — Sarcoptic mange is the result of parasitic mites—Sarcoptes scabiei—that burrow beneath the pet’s skin, are intensely itchy, and cause pets to chew and scratch incessantly. Hair loss is common, typically on the legs and belly, and the skin may thicken if the condition is not treated. The mites can jump from pets to people, who also develop severely itchy bumps that can last several weeks.

Most commonly, your pet makes you sick through:

  • Biting
  • Contact with their contaminated body fluids (i.e., urine, feces, or saliva)
  • Directly contacting their skin

Reducing disease risk from your pet

Avoiding disease transmission from your pet is not difficult and mostly involves ensuring they are healthy and practicing good hygiene, plus the following: 

  • Regular veterinary wellness exams — Regular wellness examinations by our veterinary team to monitor your pet’s health and keep their vaccinations current are extremely important, to establish your pet’s normal values, and to detect problems early. Routine vaccinations, including rabies, bolster the immune system and protect your pet. We recommend annual wellness exams.
  • Administering year-round flea, tick, and heartworm preventives — Most heartworm preventives include a broad-spectrum dewormer, which will keep your pet—and your family—free from intestinal worms.
  • Removing waste quickly — Remove solid waste as soon as possible, using gloves, baggies, or a scoop, and always wash your hands afterward.
  • Handwashing — Wash your hands thoroughly after handling pets, cleaning up their waste, and before eating or touching your face.

By understanding which diseases are zoonotic and practicing regular wellness and preventive care, you can help protect your pet, yourself, and your family and still live close together. Contact our Bayview Animal Hospital team to schedule your pet’s wellness appointment.