One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from my clients is,
“Can my pet make me sick?”
Well, the short answer is yes, and there’s even a name for these type of diseases: zoonotic diseases or zoonosis.
But to put things in perspective…
… the health benefits of having pets far outweigh the risks of your pet making you sick.
Five main diseases you can catch from your pet
Luckily, in Australia, we don’t have to worry about rabies (unless you own a pet bat!) and every zoonotic disease you may catch from your pet is either preventable or treatable.
Here are the five main diseases you can catch from your pet…
1. Stomach bugs
Bugs such as salmonella, campylobacter, cryptosporidium and giardia are all found in the faeces of dogs and cats who are fed raw meat. Although these bugs usually won’t make your pet sick, they can give you gastroenteritis-type illness, including vomiting and diarrhoea.
The main risk for you occurs when you come into with contact pet faeces, so careful washing of hands after a trip to the dog park or cleaning up after your pet will usually prevent this type of illness.
2. Meningitis and pneumonia
Staphylococcus is a bacteria that lives naturally on your pets without causing them harm, but it can cause a range of rare illnesses in humans, including skin and wound infections, pneumonia and even meningitis.
The easiest way to avoid infection is to not let your pet lick or nuzzle your face, especially if you have an open wound.
Toxoplasma is a type of parasite that can live in warm-blooded animals, particularly cats. It can especially be a problem for immunocompromised people and pregnant women, because it can damage the development of a foetus.
The easiest way to avoid toxoplasma is to regularly clean kitty litter trays (and thoroughly wash your hands after) and to be especially careful when gardening or playing in sand pits where old cat faeces may be present.
Roundworm and hookworm can all be easily controlled by regularly worming and bathing of your animals. Read more here Even in the highly unlikely event you catch worms from your pet, the good news is they can easily be treated.
5. Cat Scratch Fever
If your cat scratches you, you could become infected with Bartonella, a bacterium that causes fever and swollen lymph nodes.
Your cat actually gets these germs from live flea faeces, so you can easily prevent this disease by keeping your cat up to date with flea treatment, regular grooming and washing of your cats bedding.
And training pets and humans (especially young children) how to safely interact with each other will help prevent bites or scratches occurring in the first place.
When you should take extra caution
If you have a healthy immune system, the risk of getting sick from your pet is low, even if you share a bed with them.
However your chance of your pet making you sick increases if you or anyone in your household has a compromised immune system, especially if you:
• are very young,
• are very old,
• have diseases that compromise the immune system like HIV,
• are pregnant, or
• are undergoing chemotherapy.
If your immune system is compromised it might be wise to discuss with your doctor whether you should avoid contact with animals until your system recovers.
But if this is not possible you can help protect yourself from catching a disease from your pet by taking the following precautions.
Minimise the risk of your pet making you sick
The good news is there are a few easy steps you can take to ensure your pet won’t make you sick:
• Wash your hands after you handle your pet or their faeces and especially before you handle food
• Ensure you regularly give your pet their worm and flea treatment
• Wash your pet’s bedding in hot water, where possible, and ensure you regularly groom your pet
• Remove any pet faeces from your home quickly and hygienically, ensuring you wash your hands immediately afterwards
• Don’t share implements for human and animal food preparation
• Teach your children how to safely interact with your pet and always supervise their interaction
• Don’t let your pet drink from toilet bowls or eat faeces
But although just about every pet can make you sick (including birds transmitting parrot fever, reptiles passing on salmonella and rodents giving you LCMV) luckily these instances are quite rare and the basic hygiene precautions outlined above can prevent most of these illnesses.
If you have any concerns about the health of your pet then contact us and a mobile vet can come to your place to assess any risk.
We can also help you put procedures into place to prevent transmission of disease and ensure that your pet won’t make you sick.