Zoonotic Diseases

Illnesses You Can Get from Your Pet


During a public health crisis, we all are concerned and worried about communicable illnesses. There are concerns about COVID-19 and our pets, but it serves to remind us there are other illnesses that we must protect our pets from and can catch from animals. Zoonotic diseases are infectious illnesses that can be passed from animals to humans.  These diseases can be spread through direct or indirect contact with infected animals, transmitted via pests such as worms, fleas, ticks, or mosquitoes or can be spread via contaminated food or water.  Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk. Animal care workers who serve as first responders to ill pets also have an increased risk of exposure.

The best way to prevent the spread of zoonotic infections is hygiene and best practices. These include proper handwashing and keeping the environment you and your pets live in clean. When around animals, you should take care to prevent bites and scratches to your animal or you, especially with wild animals or strange ones. Ensure that all foods are cooked properly to kill all possible bacterial threats and drink and provide only clean water to your pets and yourself. Contact and seek veterinary care if your pet becomes ill. Even best practices cannot avoid and eliminate all risk.


Cat Scratch Disease

Cat Scratch Fever is caused by the bacteria called Bartonella henselae. Cats can contract Bartonella henselae from fleas and typically does not make cats ill. However, it can infect humans who are scratched or bitten by an infected cat. Dogs can get the disease as well. Bartonella henselae is symptomized by swelling at the injury and nearby lymph nodes. Other common signs of Cat Scratch Fever are fever, lethargy/listlessness, a loss of appetite, and headaches. It is easily recovered from except in rare cases. In most cases, antibiotics kill the bacteria and a full recovery is made.



Giardiasis is a disease caused by Giardia, a group of microscopic single-celled parasites that can infect several animals, including dogs, cats, rodents, and humans. Giardia is an incredibly hardy parasite. They can form cystic walls that allow them to live outside of hosts for long periods until they are released into a new host. Giardia causes diarrhea and vomiting. Animals usually contract it by ingesting the cysts after drinking contaminated water or grooming themselves after walking on infected soil/ Humans most often get giardiasis from drinking contaminated water and rarely from direct contact with animals. Animals with giardiasis can be treated with medications. Pets treated for giardiasis need to be bathed daily to remove all stool particles as they contain parasite cysts that can attach to the body and reinfect the animal or their humans. Therefore, picking up dog and cat poop and disposing of it properly is important. Pick up and properly dispose of feces immediately. People who have dealt with infected animals should thoroughly wash their hands afterward with soap and water.



Rabies is a lethal viral infection that affects mammals and is one of the most dangerous zoonotic diseases known. Any mammal can contract rabies most commonly from the saliva passed from the bite of an infected animal. Symptoms begin with an influenza type illness and are progressive until it comes to affect the brain itself. Once rabies reaches the brain it causes behavioral changes, neurological dysfunction, seizures, and aggression, the hallmark of rabies. Once exposed, a human can be treated with immunological treatments and a series of vaccines however, once symptoms develop, it is almost always fatal. Rabies is preventable in pets. All cats and dogs should be routinely vaccinated against rabies and medical care should always be sought after animal bites.



Ringworm is a fungus that causes a circular bulls-eye mark on the affected person. Dermatophytosis is the scientific name and it can affect the skin of most animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents, and even humans. Ringworm is spread from an animal or person who has the fungus or from skin contact with a contaminated environment. In humans, the rash is scaly, red, and causes severe skin irritation and discomfort. In animals and humans, if it occurs where the hair is, it will cause alopecia or hair loss where infected. It is easy to treat with antifungal medications but can be annoying as once a pet or human has it, it can quickly spread to the entire household and environment.


Sarcoptic Mange

We’ve all heard the expression “mangy dog” and this is what they refer to. Sarcoptic mange is a skin condition caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite. The mite is also known as scabies when it affects humans. These mites burrow into the skin and cause skin thickening and changes, intense itching, and irritation (especially at night), and hair loss. Scabies can affect most animals and can be given to pets from infected people. Different varieties of mites are best suited to live on dogs than on humans so if a dog or human gets the “wrong” type of mite, they will have milder but still irritating and frustrating symptoms. Humans can get scabies through close contact with affected animals but as it is not human scabies, it rarely needs treatment as sarcoptic mange is not able to thrive on humans as human scabies can.  Humans with scabies of any sort are contagious to other people with even casual contact. Sarcoptic mange is both treatable and preventable in pets with regular use of prescription flea and tick treatments.



Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite can be contracted by humans and most animals via undercooked meat and via cat feces. Cats who have “toxo” are rarely sick, however, the infection is found in their cat box solid contents. Toxoplasmosis rarely makes healthy people ill and if it does, it is usually mild flu-like illnesses, however, it is a serious health risk for the immunocompromised and pregnant women. This usually asymptomatic parasite can cause birth defects, miscarriage, or even stillbirth in women who are not previously infected if they become infected while pregnant. Pregnant women should have someone else clean the litter box or use gloves and exercise caution around the cat box if they do not know their toxoplasmosis status. Treatment usually involves antibiotics if necessary.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

I agree to these terms.