How Zoonotic Diseases Harm Pets And People

A yellow lab in the background, with a tick on a hand in front

Zoonotic diseases are those that can be transmitted from animals to humans and from wildlife to domestic pets. After the coronavirus pandemic, more people are aware of how quickly these illnesses can spread through cities and towns, but they might not know how dangerous they can be for pets. 

The team at Barton Heights Veterinary Hospital wants to help you understand how to protect your furry friends and entire family from these diseases.

How Zoonotic Diseases Are Transmitted

Family pets can come into contact with zoonotic diseases in a few different ways. These include:

Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoans can all cause zoonotic diseases, and each one reacts differently in hosts. Some zoonotic diseases cause mild or moderate symptoms, while others, like rabies, can be fatal.

Some pets are more at risk than others, including unvaccinated pets, puppies and kittens, senior pets, and those with compromised immunity. Animals that are housed together, such as in puppy mills, kennels, and animal shelters are also at increased risk of contracting zoonotic diseases.

Common Zoonotic Diseases That Harm Pets And People

While there are over 100 zoonoses that affect pets and people, we think it is important to familiarize yourself with some of the most common ones. These include:

  1. Leptospirosis
    Leptospirosis has come to our attention with its increasing prevalence over the past decade. This bacterial infection is often contracted after a pet is exposed to the urine of an infected animal. Pets can even contract the illness if they are exposed to water or soil where infected animals have urinated.

If your pet contracts Leptospirosis, he or she can suffer damage to the kidneys and liver. If you clean up the waste of an infected pet, you can become infected. Although it can be treated with antibiotics, it must be caught early to avoid any organ damage.

  1. Rabies
    Rabies is a virus that attacks the neurological system and results in death. It is important to have your pet vaccinated against this deadly disease. Rabies is equally serious if not fatal in humans as well. 

The number of domesticated rabies cases in North America is quite low, but this is a fatal disease that must be taken seriously. Rabies is very common in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, feral dogs, foxes, and coyotes. This is why states require you to vaccinate your dog (and sometimes your cat) against the rabies virus.

  1. Toxoplasmosis
    This parasitic organism, called Toxoplasma gondii, is found naturally in the digestive tract of cats. It is shed through the cat’s feces. Most healthy individuals are resistant to this infection, but it can be harmful to pregnant women or those with compromised immunity.
  2. Internal parasites
    Intestinal parasites can affect animals and humans, especially young children. Parasites like hookworms and roundworms are normally found in hosts like dogs or cats. These parasitic worms can travel to humans through contact with an infected animal or their feces.
  3. Cat scratch disease
    This disease caused by the bacterium, Bartonella henselae, is found in more than 40% of cats. If the cat licks an open wound or sore or bites the skin hard enough to cause bleeding, it can be transferred to humans. This disease results in fever, swelling of the lymph nodes, and headache in humans. Most cats display no symptoms, but there are rare cases when it damages the heart.

There are numerous other illnesses that can be contracted by our furry pals and transferred to us, but there are plenty of steps you can take to minimize your risk:

  • Make sure you pet is vaccinated and on parasite control
  • Don’t let your pet drink from standing water sources like ditches and ponds
  • Check your pet for ticks and fleas, especially after you have been out in a natural area or a hiking path
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning up after your pet, cleaning the litter box, or picking up their waste

If you would like more information on zoonotic diseases and how they impact pets, Barton Heights Veterinary Hospital is here for you. Call (570) 424‑6773 to schedule an appointment.