sharing ice cream with a dog

Can You Get Sick From Your Pets?

Americans love their household pets. We treat them like family, kiss their wet noses and share our bowl of ice cream with them. But can we get ill from all of that closeness?

Fortunately, you are at much greater risk of contracting an illness from a fellow human than your pet. But there are a number of diseases, including some parasites; that you should be aware of.

Every year, thousands of people will in fact get sick from contact with animals, including Fido and Fluffy. These diseases actually have a name. They are referred to as zoonotic diseases, and are responsible for about 3 out of 5 new human illnesses. 100 of the 250 known zoonotic diseases actually come from domesticated pets.

Note that while most people can recover easily from these conditions with simple treatments, certain people can be more greatly affected. Anyone with a weakened immune system (cancer patients undergoing treatment, someone diagnosed with HIV, the elderly, etc.), children under the age of 5, pregnant women and adults over the age of 65, are at greater risk.

In most cases, the transmission of the disease is due to direct contact with the saliva or feces of an infected animal. Other methods of transmission are through infected fleas and ticks, as well as through contact with water or food that has been contaminated.

Here are a few of the more common issues that people may experience related to household pets. They are listed based on the type of infection. A discussion relating to what you can do to minimize the risk of infections will follow.

Fungal Infections

Ringworm is the most common fungal infection that can be transmitted from a pet to a human. Ringworm isn’t a worm; its name comes from its appearance, which is a round, itchy area with a ring around the edge of the lesion. An infected pet drops fungal spores from their fur or skin, the spores are incredibly contagious. The spores can be infectious for months, and small children (often found playing in the dirt or crawling on the ground) are most likely to come into contact with the spores and become infected.

Antifungal medications are needed to resolve ringworm. In addition, the environment must be continuously cleaned (bedding washed, vacuumed, etc.) and sanitized.

Protozoal Infections

Protozoans are single-celled organisms that can’t be seen with the naked eye. You probably have heard about toxoplasmosis, which is the most common protozoal disease transmitted by cats to humans. The cat gets the disease through a contaminated source, possibly water or through eating infected rodents or birds. Once infected the cat sheds the parasite in its feces for several weeks. The issue then becomes that the parasite can live for many months, contaminating the soil, garden, water, etc. And if an indoor/outdoor cat, the cat can bring the parasite into its litter box.