Your pet can give you so much: love, attention,
entertainment, company – and infection. But
being alert to some of these problems can help
to keep you and your pet healthy.
Whether you own a dog or a cat, a bird or a
reptile, a rabbit or fish, you should be aware
that your pet can have an effect on your health
by infecting you with certain diseases. These are
called zoonotic diseases, which are animal
diseases that can be transmitted to humans.
You may already know about some of the more
common zoonotic diseases: Lyme disease is a
bacterial disease transmitted by tick bites;
malaria is transmitted by the Anopheles
mosquito, and bubonic plague is transmitted by
rats, or rather by fleas that become infected by
biting the rats. However, you should also be
aware of several common zoonotic diseases that
can be transmitted by your pet. Most common
Cat scratch disease. This is a bacterial disease
caused by bacteria carried in cat saliva. The
bacteria can be passed from a cat to a human
through biting or scratching.
Ringworm. This contagious fungal
infection can affect the scalp, the body
(particularly the groin), the feet and the
nails. Despite its name, it has nothing to
do with worms. The name comes from
the characteristic red ring that can
appear on an infected person’s skin.
Psittacosis. You can get this bacterial disease by
inhaling dust from dried bird droppings.
Rabies. This viral infection is caused by a virus
found in the saliva of infected animals and is
transmitted to pets and humans by bites.
Infected bats, raccoons, foxes, skunks, dogs or
cats provide the greatest risk to humans.
Toxoplasmosis. You can acquire this parasitic
disease from soil or other contaminated surfaces
by putting your hands to your mouth after
gardening, cleaning a cat’s litter box, or by
touching anything that has come into contact
with cat feces.
Ringworm. This contagious fungal infection can
affect the scalp, the body (particularly the
groin), the feet and the nails. Despite its name,
it has nothing to do with worms. The name
comes from the characteristic red ring that can
appear on an infected person’s skin.
All animals can acquire zoonotic diseases, but
animals at increased risk include: outdoor pets,
unvaccinated animals, pets that are
immunocompromised (a suppressed immune
system), poorly groomed animals and animals
that are housed in unsanitary conditions. People
with immune disorders, on chemotherapy or
immunosuppressive therapy may be at
increased risk of infection.
Animals with zoonotic diseases may exhibit a
variety of clinical signs depending on the type of
disease. The signs can vary from mild to severe.
As a pet owner you should know your animal
and be aware of any changes in behavior and
What to Watch For
Bruising under the skin
Your veterinarian will need a good history,
including an accurate travel history and
complete physical examination in order to make
an accurate diagnosis. Since there are so many
different kinds of zoonotic diseases, your
veterinarian will also do various diagnostic tests.
Some of these may include blood tests, cultures,
x-rays or ultrasounds.
Treatment depends on the specific diagnosis and
may include antibiotics, anti-parasitic drugs or
anti-fungal drugs; intravenous fluids;
symptomatic care for associated conditions (e.g.
vomiting or diarrhea); and analgesic (pain)
Not all animals with zoonotic diseases are
serious risks to people, but good hygiene
practices should always be observed. Proper
education, a good understanding of the disease
and its method of transmission are a vital part
of home and preventative care. Use proper
hygiene and sanitation when handling pets and
their excretions and maintain a good program of
Until next time.
Deji Asiru-Balogun blogs at www.
wildeji.blogspot.com. He tweets from @wildeji