A “zoonotic disease” may make you think of something you can get from wildlife, but the term actually refers to a disease you can get from any animal, including your pet. Read on to learn about zoonotic disease transmission, and how you can prevent your furry pal from sharing illnesses.

#1: Your pet’s mouth isn’t as clean as you think

If your pet licks their wound, they may indeed help speed up the healing process, but their mouth can also harbor numerous pathogens that can transmit a variety of infectious diseases. The most notorious disease transmitted by your pet’s mouth—such as through a bite—is rabies. Rabies is transmitted through blood or saliva, and can cause a multitude of issues, including paralysis, aggression, convulsions, and, ultimately, death. Fortunately, an excellent rabies vaccination protocol has largely eradicated this deadly disease in the U.S. domestic animal population. 

#2: Numerous parasites can lurk in your pet’s stool

When you pick up your pet’s poop, you no doubt recognize the “ick” factor, but did you know that your pet’s feces can also be harmful? Their feces can play host to a ton of various parasites that can cause a plethora of illnesses, including diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, headaches, vomiting, and seizures. Washing your hands immediately after cleaning up your pet’s feces is crucial for preventing intestinal parasite transmission, and taking care if your pet licks your face is equally important. Pets typically clean themselves after going to the bathroom, and fecal material, along with any parasite eggs that may be in the stool, can be transferred to you from their mouth. Keeping your pet on year-round parasite prevention can minimize the potential for intestinal parasite transmission, but you must also practice good hygiene.

#3: Your pet’s urine can make you ill

Although cleaning up a warm puddle is no fun, a pool of urine can put you at risk for contracting a serious disease known as leptospirosis, or lepto. Lepto is a bacteria that thrives in water and dirt, and is most often transmitted through wildlife urine to pets. While people are most likely to contract lepto through swimming in contaminated water, they can also get the disease from their infected pet’s urine. The bacteria can invade the body through mucous membranes such as the gums, or open sores. Infected pets and people can develop kidney and liver failure, and experience vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, joint pain, and a high fever. Long-term organ damage can also occur, despite treatment. 

#4: Zoonotic diseases are not always passed directly from pets to people

While many zoonotic diseases are transmitted directly from pets to people through saliva and other bodily fluids, some are transmitted by the parasites that pets carry. If your furry pal carries a parasitic hitchhiker, like a flea or tick, you can contract various illnesses, including—to name only a few—Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tapeworms, cat scratch disease, and murine typhus.

#5: You can contract zoonotic diseases from your food

Your pet is not the only one capable of disease transmission—your food can also be a vector. Remember how feces can contain pathogens and parasites? Wildlife and pets can defecate in gardens, and if you pluck a ripe fruit or veggie from your garden that you don’t wash before eating, you may ingest an unexpected extra. Undercooked meats and seafood can also harbor bacteria and parasites, so always cook your food to the recommended temperature to kill off E. coli, Salmonella, Toxoplasma, and many other pathogens.

Keep in mind that preparing your food on contaminated surfaces can also cause illness. For example, your cat with a persistent Giardia infection uses their litter box and accidentally squashes, instead of covering, their stool. Then, they jump on your kitchen counter, leaving fecal bacteria, and possibly pathogens, on the surface where you slap down some bread to make a sandwich. The next thing you know, you’re running to the bathroom constantly because you have watery diarrhea. 

While these situations are uncommon, you should be aware of the potential risk and take steps to protect yourself from disease transmission.

#6: Anyone is at risk for contracting zoonotic diseases from pets

Everyone can contract zoonotic diseases, but children under the age of 5 and adults older than 65 are at higher risk for developing more serious complications. Likewise, those with compromised immune systems and women who are pregnant should be extra careful, especially if they clean up after their pets. 

#7: Vaccinating your pet also protects you and your family

Your pet can be vaccinated for some zoonotic diseases, which means you also are protected. Therefore, ensure your pet remains current on their vaccinations, and that you administer their parasite preventive year-round, to protect your entire household.

Zoonotic diseases can cause you and your pet serious illness. Protect your entire family from disease by scheduling your pet’s preventive care visit with our Greenfield Veterinary Clinic team.