Pets bring a great deal of joy to our lives. They are our close companions, often our exercise buddies, and they are great listeners when things are not going so well. However, they can also make us ill. Zoonoses are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans, and your furred or feathered best friend can be a source of them.
Some people are at greater risk of zoonoses than others, namely those with weakened immune systems. This includes the elderly, young children, transplant patients and people undergoing treatment for other diseases such as cancer.
Here are some of the more common zoonoses of which you should be aware:
This very serious disease is transmitted to people when they are bitten by an animal infected with the rabies virus. Early signs are fevers and headaches; this progresses to agitation, confusion and delirium. By the time symptoms have appeared, it is almost always fatal. To protect your loved ones, keep your pet’s rabies vaccinations up to date and prevent any contact with potentially infected wild animals.
Salmonella is a bacterium that lives in the gastrointestinal tract of many animals. It is spread to people through contaminated foods such as chicken. If your pet is fed a raw diet, then there is a risk of infection to both of you. Salmonella can cause fever, diarrhea and stomach pain in people, and similar symptoms also occur in dogs. To prevent infection, be strict with hygiene around your pet’s food bowl and wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw food.
In spite of its name, ringworm is not actually a worm, but a fungus that affects the skin. It is spread by contact with an infected dog or cat, or by touching bedding or brushes that they have used. Typically, it results in a red ring-shaped rash in people and a patch of scaly hairless skin in pets. It is rarely serious and usually easy to manage with anti-fungal washes and ointments. If it is severe, tablets may be necessary to clear it up completely.
Hookworm and Roundworm
These are worms that live inside the intestines of dogs and cats. A concerning fact for pet parents is that the larval forms of the worms are what cause problems in people. Hookworm larvae migrate under our skin causing a red rash that is extremely itchy. Roundworm larvae are much more dangerous – they can migrate through the eye and brain, causing severe damage to both organs. Children are more likely to become infected because they are less focused on hygiene, so always make sure children wash their hands thoroughly after cuddling their pet or playing with them. You can reduce the risk of this infection by regularly treating your pet for worms.
This is a disease caused by an organism called Chlamydia psittaci, which is carried mostly by birds of the parrot family, but you can also become infected by other species such as poultry. After being infected by breathing in the organism, people can suffer respiratory symptoms including coughing, shortness of breath and fever. Psittacosis can be severe but usually responds well to antibiotics. To avoid infection, isolate sick birds and have them treated by your vet promptly. Do not breathe in feather dust when you are around your birds, and clean their cages thoroughly and frequently.
While there can be health risks associated with parenting pets, these can be minimized by good hygiene, vaccination and parasite control. Most people would agree that sharing their lives with a pet is worth the risks of preventable disease.