Although your pet is most often a source of enjoyment, lurking behind that lovable, furry exterior can be a number of nasty germs that can make you and your family sick. Virtually all pets, including dogs, cats, birds, rodents and reptiles, carry illnesses that can be transmitted to humans. Some of the infections pets carry include fungi, bacteria, parasites and viruses. Infections pets carry can be transmitted through scratching, biting, saliva, waste, dander and ticks or fleas.
Most infections pets carry are fairly harmless to adults. Young children and infants can be at particular risk from these illnesses, because their immune systems are not as well developed. Pregnant women and their fetuses, as well, are at increased risk from the infections pets carry.
The following is a list of the most common types of infections pets carry:
- Bacterial Infections:
- Campylobacter Infection: This is caused by the bacteria called campylobacter jejuni, which is carried by dogs and cats. It causes fever, diarrhea and stomach pain and is transmitted through water and fecal matter. This infection is treated with antibiotics.
- Cat Scratch Disease: It is estimated that up to 40% of cats carry this illness at some point in their lives. It is caused by the Bartonella henselae bacteria and is transmitted through bites and scratches. The resulting infection causes fever, fatigue, headaches and swollen lymph nodes.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF): This disease is transmitted by infected ticks carrying the Rickettsiabacteria, which are carried indoors by dogs and cats. Symptoms of RMSF include rash, fever, muscle pain, headaches and rash.
- Psittacosis: Also known as “parrot fever,” this infection is passed from an infected bird through feces or dust in the cage. It causes respiratory issues, fever and headache.
- Salmonellosis: This infection is transmitted through the feces of reptiles. It is particularly nasty, causing diarrhea, vomiting and fever, and potentially serious dehydration.
- Mycobacteria marinum: This infection is caused by coming into contact with contaminated aquarium or pond water inhabited by reptiles. It results in a skin infection.
- Parasitic Infections:
- Toxocariasis: This infection is caused by the roundworm, Toxocara. Eggs are passed through dog and cat feces, which are deposited in the soil where children play. If the soil is ingested and the child is infected, he or she may experience fever, cough, enlarged liver, swollen lymph nodes and rash. Medication is usually necessary to de-worm the intestines.
- Toxoplasmosis: This well-known infection has received much publicity for the danger it poses to pregnant women. It can cause muscle pain, sore throat, fever and rash. For pregnant women, an infection can result in miscarriage or premature birth. If the baby survives, he or she may be seriously ill.
- Giardia: This parasite is carried by both mammals and birds and can cause diarrhea in infected people.
- Cryptosporidium: This parasite is carried by dogs, cats and rodents and can cause flu-like symptoms in addition to diarrhea.
- Fungal Infections:
- Ringworm: Also known as tinea, this fungal infection is carried on the skin of infected pets. Coming into contact with the infected area can transmit the rash.
- Cryptococcosis: This infection is transmitted via inhalation of the organism, which is found in bird droppings, resulting in pneumonia.
- Viral Infections:
- Rabies: Although this is an extremely feared infection, it is rarely contracted by pets and humans due to widespread vaccination against the disease. It is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal.
- Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis: This virus is carried by rodents, primarily mice and hamsters. A person can become infected when he or she inhales infected feces, urine or saliva particles. Symptoms resemble the flu, and the infection can progress to meningitis.
Of all the potential infections pets carry, many experts are particularly concerned with the infections that reptiles carry. If you have small children, it may be a good idea to hold off on reptile pets until your child is older.
Although there are many infections pets carry, if you follow certain precautions, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about contracting them. First and foremost, keep your pets up to date on their vaccinations. Avoid feeding pets raw meat, which may carry bacteria, and make sure to sanitize areas where a pet may have defecated or urinated. Avoid contact with a pet’s mouth, and teach your child to do the same.
Proper handwashing will help ward off potential infections as well. If your pet goes outside often, make sure to clean up poop in the yard and keep cats out of children’s sandboxes. Shampooing your dog or cat on a regular basis can help prevent illnesses from fleas and ticks from affecting you and your pets.