Animals can contract viral and bacterial illnesses just like humans. But do animals pass these on to their owners? There answer is it depends.
While animal illnesses like heartworm or kennel cough can’t be shared with humans, there certainly are conditions that can. Pets can share toxoplasmosis, Lyme disease, salmonella, ringworm and rabies with their owners. These conditions range from mild and annoying to fatal.
In the United States, 11% percent of humans over the age of six have been infected with toxoplasmosis, which doesn’t pose a threat to most people. Any warm-blooded animals can host this parasite, but it is most commonly found in cats.
Risks are higher for expectant mothers, who can pass the parasite through their blood to the fetus, possibly resulting in birth defects. While most healthy people will recover from this parasite on their own, an individual with a compromised immune system will need to undergo treatment until they’re well to avoid serious complications.
To avoid exposure to toxoplasmosis, avoid contact with cat feces, change litter boxes daily and keep outdoor sandboxes well covered. It is best if pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals do not change litter boxes at all.
Lyme disease isn’t contagious in the traditional sense. It doesn’t spread from human-to-human or pet-to-human, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible to contract this dangerous infection from a pet. Lyme is given to pets when they are bitten by a tick carrying the disease. Pets can become a host for an infected tick, bringing it into the home where the tick can then infect humans.
This disease is serious. It can be difficult to detect and can cause lasting health problems in both pets and humans. Untreated or more serious cases can result in chronic pain, sleep troubles and even depression. Perform regular tick checks on all animals in the home and keep up with tick and flea preventative medication.
Typically associated with eating contaminated foods, salmonella can also be spread from pets to humans. Many reptiles and amphibians carry salmonella on their skin and shed the bacteria into their surroundings and onto the hands of those who hold them.
A person who is infected with salmonella can experience diarrhea, cramping, fever and vomiting. For individuals with a compromised immune system or young children, salmonella can become very serious and may even result in death.
Owners of reptiles and amphibians can avoid salmonella by washing their hands after handling their pets. Very young children shouldn’t handle these animals at all and it isn’t advised for immunocompromised individuals to keep these animals in their home.
Ringworm is a fungus that can be spread through contact with animals or people who are infected. It is also known for the circular lesions it causes on the skin. In humans, the skin surrounding the ring is typically itchy, while animals who have ringworm do not itch.
Ringworm is easy to spread ringworm since it lives in the hair shaft. To avoid transmission, wash hands carefully after physical contact with pets or people infected with the fungus.
Thanks to vaccinations in the United States, only one to three humans contract rabies each year. Typically, rabies is spread because an unvaccinated pet is infected by a wild animal carrying the disease. Humans can then become infected if bit by a rabid dog.
This dangerous disease is usually fatal after infection, causing swelling in the brain, fever, hallucinations and a variety of other symptoms. The good news is that rabies is preventable by following veterinarian vaccination schedules.
As a pet owner, the easiest way to keep yourself and your animal healthy is caring for the pet. Stay up to date with vaccine schedules, keep up with regular physicals and see a veterinarian if symptoms of illness arise in a pet.
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