Can Your Pet Make You Sick?

If you’re reading this, chances are you are an animal lover and you have at least one furry family member. There are, however, a lot of people who do not love dogs (and, even more so, cats). While those of us who do love them will never understand why, one reason could be the concept that our companion animals can make us sick.

Is there any truth to this or is it just a myth?

Most of us with a dog or cat treat them like any other family member. We share couches with them and may even share our bed with them. Can these close quarters make us humans sick? Put simply, yes – but don’t panic! This is very uncommon…

The Risks                                                                

Any disease that can be transmitted from animal to human is called a zoonotic disease. Rabies is the best known of these, and the most feared, but fortunately, to date, it has no presence in Australia.

Zoonotic diseases transmitted by dogs and cats are predominantly gastrointestinal in nature. They may include:

  • Leptospirosis
  • Salmonellosis
  • Campylobacter infection
  • Giardia infection
  • Cryptosporidium infection
  • Ringworm
  • Scabies
  • Hookworm
  • Roundworm
  • Harvest Mites
  • Toxoplasmosis (cats only)

These will rarely be transmitted to you from your pet – it’s not at all a likelihood, but it is a possibility you need to be aware of.

Some Facts:

  • You cannot catch a cold or flu virus from your pet – nor can you pass a human one onto them. The common cold virus that humans experience is specific to humans. Likewise, different animal species are affected by species-specific flu viruses.
  • Myth: Dog saliva is antibacterial. In fact, dog saliva is every bit as bacteria-laden as human saliva potentially is; don’t allow pet saliva to get onto an open wound, and don’t let a dog lick your mouth.
  • If your pet has diarrhoea then yes, you can catch this from your pet. Reptilian pets, baby chicks, mice, and hamsters pose the greatest risk of Salmonella transmission to humans – far greater than the risks posed by a dog or cat.
  • Cats can be carriers of toxoplasmosis and cat-scratch disease. These can be passed from a healthy pet to humans via contact with faeces or through a bite or scratch and can make a human very sick.
  • Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can be passed from canine urine into human mucous membranes.
  • Dogs and cats can pass the fungal disease ringworm to humans via skin to skin contact if the animal is infected.
  • A deep puncture wound from a dog or cat bite can lead to significant infection and even abscess (especially if the biter is a cat). Seek medical treatment promptly if you receive a puncture bite and take antibiotics if prescribed.
  • Allergies can be exacerbated in sensitive people by pets, especially cats.

Tips for staying well:

  • Wash your hands after cleaning up dog poo or kitty litter
  • Don’t share cutlery or your food bowl/plate with your pet
  • Don’t share mouth “kisses” with your pet
  • If your pet is sick, take him or her to the vet ASAP
  • Have your pet vaccinated on schedule
  • De-worm and treat your pet for fleas on schedule
  • Avoid direct contact with strays and wild animals
  • If a pet scratches or bites you, promptly wash the wound and keep an eye on it for any signs of infection over the next week or two.

You are most at risk of contracting one of the abovementioned diseases if you are immunocompromised or have a pre-existing medical condition, for example:

  • Are on chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer
  • Are elderly with chronic disease
  • During pregnancy
  • Are an organ transplant or bone marrow transplant recipient
  • Have a congenital immune deficiency

Don’t give up your pet! Just take extra precautions, wash your hands regularly, and monitor your pet for illness.

Know that it is far more likely to become unwell from another human than from your pet or any other animal. Just be sensible and take the precautions listed above. And keep loving your pet – the benefits of having a furry family member far outweigh the very small risks!

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