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11 Diseases You Didn't Know You Can Get From Your Pets

Our pets can pass on diseases such as Lyme disease, hookworms, rabies, salmonella, parrot fever and cat-scratch disease. In more rare cases, one can contract the avian flu, the plague and fish handler’s disease. Pregnant women should especially be careful of toxoplasmosis which can cause miscarriages and birth defects. All of these diseases are preventable through good hygiene practices and keeping up to date with your pet’s care and grooming.

Our cuddly friends don’t mean us any harm but they sure can pass on some nasty germs. As much as we want to shower our pets with plenty of affection, it would be smart to be a little cautious about kissing them, letting them lick your face, or letting them share that hot dog with you. Fortunately, all of these diseases can be prevented with simple good hygiene practices. Here are some diseases you can contract from our various animal companions.

4 Diseases You Can Contract From Dogs

1. Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is one disease you can get from your pet through ticks

Lyme disease is a bacterial disease that can be transmitted to humans through ticks that your dog may be carrying.
Symptoms: The site of the tick bite will develop a red rash that resembles a ‘bull’s eye’, followed by flu-like symptoms. If left untreated, it can develop into more serious symptoms like arthritis, and brain and spinal cord inflammation.1
Prevention: Check your dog for ticks regularly, especially after they spend time outdoors. Immediately remove any that you see and check with your vet for a natural anti-tick topical medication. Keep your yard clear of dry leaves and get rid of tick friendly hiding places like old furniture or mattresses.

2. Hookworm

You can get hookwork from your pets through contact with feces

Hookworm eggs usually hide in dog and cat feces. Direct contact such as walking barefoot or sitting in contaminated soil or sand can let the larvae penetrate human skin.
Symptoms: Hookworms can cause an itchy reaction on the skin where they enter. A small squiggly line may appear as well. The larvae will die under the skin after a few weeks and the itching, as well as the lines, will disappear.
Prevention: Make sure to clean up after your dog and remove feces from the yard regularly. You should also always wear shoes when walking around in sand or soil.

3. Roundworm

Humans can get roundworms from their pet dog's feces

Dogs ingest eggs of the roundworm from their surroundings. Humans, usually children, may contract these parasites by accidentally consuming dirt with infected feces.
Symptoms: There are usually no clear symptoms arising from roundworms.
Prevention: Take your dog to the vet who will decide if your pet needs a deworming treatment. In addition, wash hands thoroughly after handling your dog. Feces should be cleared immediately from the living area. It can either be buried or bagged to be disposed of.

4. Rabies

Rabies can be passed from pets to humans through bites and scratches

The rabies virus is transmitted through saliva, so bites or scratches from an unvaccinated pet, stray, or wild animal should be considered as exposure to rabies and reported to your doctor immediately.
Symptoms: Flu-like symptoms can develop soon after the bite and within a few days it can develop into cerebral damage, anxiety, confusion, and delirium, eventually leading to death.
Prevention: The disease is almost always fatal once symptoms develop, so prevention is of utmost importance. Make sure to get post-exposure vaccinations immediately if you get bitten or scratched. Keep your own dog up to date with vaccinations. If you suspect your unvaccinated pet has been exposed to a rabid animal, your vet may recommend euthanasia or a period of isolation and observation.

3 Diseases You Can Contract From Cats

1. Cat-Scratch Disease

Humans can get this disease through scratches from cats

Roughhousing with your cat may have some risks. This disease is caused by the bacteria ‘Bartonella henselae’, which can be transmitted through cat scratches or bites. It can also pass through cat saliva or mucus on broken skin.
Symptoms: CSD results in a bump or blister at the site of injury accompanied by fatigue, headache, swelling of lymph nodes and in some cases, fever. The disease is usually not serious and can be treated with antibiotics.2
Prevention: Wash your hands thoroughly after handling your cat, especially if there are new scratches or bites. Never allow a cat to lick your eyes, mouth, nose, or any open wounds and scratches.

2. Toxoplasmosis

Humans can contract toxoplasmosis through cat feces

Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that can be transmitted to humans through cat feces. Cats usually ingest the parasite by eating infected rodents. It can pass to people who accidentally ingest the parasite after cleaning out a litter box and not washing their hands.
Symptoms: Toxoplasmosis doesn’t usually show symptoms in humans since our immune systems take care of it. If symptoms do occur, it is usually as a mild flu with body aches
Prevention: Feed your cats commercial dried or canned food. Do not give them raw or uncooked meat. Wear gloves while cleaning out cat litter and wash your hands thoroughly after.
Caution: If contracted by pregnant women, toxoplasmosis can result in miscarriages or birth defects. If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, have someone else clean out the cat litter. Avoid handling stray cats and kittens. 3

3. Plague

The plague is one disease that can be passed on from pets through fleas.

No, we haven’t time-traveled back to the Middle Ages. Though rare, humans can contract the bubonic plague from their cats. Your cat can be infected by ingesting infected rodents or from exposure to rodent fleas that carry the virus.
Symptoms: If infected, people generally develop a fever, headaches, weakness and chills. Antibiotics should be administered immediately if symptoms appear, to prevent the disease progressing.
Prevention: Use flea control products on your cats as directed by your vet, especially if they roam outdoors freely. If your cat does roam freely outdoors, don’t let it sleep in your bed. Always try to prevent rats entering your home or surrounding area.

2 Diseases You Can Contract From Birds

1. Parrot Fever (Psittacosis)

Parrot fever can be passed on to humans through bird droppings

This disease is normally contracted by humans from birds in the parrot family. This includes macaws, cockatiels, and budgerigars. Parrot fever can also be contracted from turkeys or pigeons. Humans can get the disease by inhaling the dust from dried bird droppings in cages.4
Symptoms: Parrot fever, as the name suggests, occurs with a mild fever, headache, chills, dry cough and shortness of breath.
Prevention: Use gloves and a mask while cleaning out bird cages, using lots of water to prevent any dust from floating in the air. Avoid handling sick birds and keep them in isolation. Provide the prescribed medication to help them recover. 

2. Avian Flu

Domestic birds like chickens can pass on bird flu to humans

Domesticated birds like chickens and turkeys can get infected with this strain of influenza which can kill them. Humans can contract the disease through contact with the birds’ feces, saliva or mucus.
Symptoms: They can range from mild flu to severe respiratory illness and seizures.5
Prevention: People who regularly work with poultry are recommended to get avian flu vaccines every season. If you own chickens as pets, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling them. Thoroughly clean traces of droppings from your yard.

2 Diseases You Can Contract From Reptiles, Amphibians, And Fish

1. Salmonella

Humans can contract salmonella from the skin and feces of reptiles and amphibians

Even if you think your spiny-tailed lizard is absolutely adorable, resist the urge to kiss and cuddle with it. Humans can get salmonella from handling reptiles or amphibians like snakes, lizards, turtles, and salamanders, that can carry the infections on their bodies and in their feces. You can also contract it from handling anything in their tanks or aquariums.
Symptoms: Fever, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are the most common symptoms
Prevention: Wash hands thoroughly after handling the animals, their habitat, food or equipment. Clean their environments outside of the house or in a dedicated bin that can be cleaned regularly. Make sure the animals and their equipment are kept far away from the kitchen or any place where food is being prepared.

2. Fish Handler’s Disease (Mycobacteriosis)

Humans can contract mycobacteriosis from handling fish in aquariums

Also known as Fish Tuberculosis or Fish Tank Granuloma, mycobacteriosis is often seen in people that regularly work with aquariums in pet stores. Breaks in the skin combined with infected water, allow the disease to enter the body.6
Symptoms: The disease causes skin lesions in the hands and fingers of those who handle aquariums. If untreated, the infection can travel deeper into the skin, affecting, tissue, tendons, and bones.
Prevention: Wearing gloves when cleaning out fish tanks or handling fish helps prevent contracting the disease

Even though owning pets comes with a little bit of risk, we can’t deny that our companions give us a lot of joy. Practicing basic hygiene habits like washing our hands after handling them, grooming them regularly and giving them their regular vaccinations and medication on time, can drastically reduce these risks, allowing you to fully enjoy their company.

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Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.