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Can My Pet Make Me Sick?

Pets and Sickness

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Updated March 25, 2014

Can My Pet Make Me Sick?

Can My Pet Make Me Sick?

Photo: Reggie Casagrande / Getty Images

Pets are great. It is a well known fact that people who have pets are typically happier and live longer than those who don’t. Pets can even make us feel better when we are sick. But sometime pets get sick too. And this often leaves us wondering if we might be able to catch whatever it is that is making our pets sick. The answer really depends on what is causing your pet’s illness.

What You Won’t Catch From Your Pet

Most of the common illnesses that affect humans do not affect pets in the same way and vice versa. So if your cat has a minor cold, you aren’t going to catch it from her. The viruses that give animals things like coughs, colds and the flu are different from the ones that cause these illnesses in people and they don’t spread back and forth between humans and animals.

Some illnesses that affect pets that do not affect humans include:

  • Common colds and upper respiratory illnesses
    There are several viruses that can cause upper respiratory diseases in cats and dogs. None of these are transmitted to humans but can be very contagious to other dogs or cats.
  • Canine Parvovirus
    This virus causes vomiting and diarrhea in dogs, among other symptoms and can be very serious or even fatal. There is an illness known as parvovirus B19, or Fifth Disease, that can make people (usually children) sick, but it is a completely different virus. The symptoms of Fifth disease include a rash, low grade fever and sometimes cold-like symptoms.
  • Canine Bordatellosis (Kennel Cough)
    This chronic and often severe cough can cause serious respiratory complications for your dog and is highly contagious among dogs, but will not cause infection in humans.
  • Heartworms
    Left untreated, heartworms will be fatal to your dog or cat but they are not transmitted to humans.

What You Could Catch From Your Pet

There are several serious illnesses that you can catch from your pet. Some of these illnesses will make your pet sick as well, but some will not. These are known as zoonotic diseases and include:

  • Lyme Disease
    Animals get Lyme disease from ticks, just like humans do. You will not get Lyme disease just because your pet has it, but the same tick that infected your pet could have infected you as well. Ticks may also carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which is a very serious illness for humans. If you have pets, you should check them daily for ticks and also check yourself and your children if you have been outside.
  • Lice
    That’s right, lice can infect pets as well as people. In fact, lice can be a very serious threat to animals, while they are typically just an itchy nuisance to humans.
  • Mange or Scabies
    Well fed and well kept cats rarely get mange or scabies, but it is much more common in dogs. “Red mange” is not a concern for humans, but the mange that is also known as scabies is highly contagious to humans. It is caused by mites and symptoms include severe itching, skin irritation and hair loss in dogs as well as humans and should be treated as soon as possible to prevent secondary infections.
  • Toxoplasmosis
    Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite and it has been found in virtually all warm-blooded animals. Cats make the perfect host for the parasite that causes the most serious infections. It is really only a threat to pregnant women (because it can cause severe harm to the fetus) and people with compromised immune systems. As many as a third of adults have been infected with the disease and are immune to it. It causes no serious threat to healthy, non-pregnant humans. Pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems should not change cat litter, avoid eating any undercooked or raw meat and wash hands and cooking utensils thoroughly after handling raw meat.
  • Salmonella
    Salmonella usually does not make animals sick, but it can be found in the feces of some pets, especially those with diarrhea. It is also commonly found on reptiles that are kept as pets. Reptiles, even turtles, should not be kept as pets in a household with children under 5 years old because this age group is most susceptible to complications from salmonella infection and the most likely to put things in their mouths.
  • Rabies
    The most severe and serious infection that can be passed from animals to humans is rabies. This incurable and fatal disease has been found all over the world. It is extremely important to have your pets vaccinated against it and if you or your pet is bitten by another animal, seek medical attention immediately. You should also try to find out the immunization status of the other animal if it is someone else’s pet or capture it if it is wild (and you can do so without being bitten again) so that it can be tested.

The Bottom Line

Pets are an excellent source of companionship, but it is important to keep them healthy. Make sure their shots are up to date and they are well cared for. You will keep them and your family healthier that way. If you are concerned about a minor virus, such as a cold, being passed between your family and your pet, don’t be. But if you have any fear that your pet may have something more serious that could be passed on to you or your family, contact your vet and your healthcare provider.

Sources:

”Pets and Parasites.” Familydoctor.org May 08. American Academy of Family Physicians. 10 July 08.

”Healthy Pets Healthy People.” CDC Features 12 May 08. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 10 July 08.

”General Illnesses and Diseases.” American Veterinary Medical Association 2008. 10 July 2008.

”Canine Illnesses and Diseases.” American Veterinary Medical Association 2008. 10 July 2008.

”Feline Illnesses and Diseases.” American Veterinary Medical Association 2008. 10 July 2008.

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