Companion animals provide unconditional love, which is one reason so many people welcome pets into their homes. Though pet owners often safely cuddle and bestow affection on their pets without thinking twice, they should be aware of zoonotic diseases, which are diseases that pets can pass on to people. The risk of getting an illness from a dog or cat is low, but individuals with immature or weakened immune systems are more susceptible to these diseases, advises the Cornell Feline Health Center. The following are some examples of zoonotic diseases.
• Rabies: Rabies is a virus spread through bites that affects the nervous system. Domestic dogs and cats usually are immunized against rabies, so it is more likely that a person would contract rabies from a wild animal.
• Toxoplasmosis: Caused by a protozoan organism, toxoplasmosis can be contracted from eating partially cooked meat or from contact with animal feces. If a cat is contaminated, it can be risky to handle litter box cleaning, particularly if you are pregnant or want to become pregnant. The disease can infect a fetus and cause serious birth defects or even miscarriage, warns WebMD.
• Catch scratch disease: Bartonella henselae is a bacterium found in the saliva of infected cats and in the bodies of cat fleas. It is usually transmitted from cat to human by way of scratches and bite wounds. About 40% of cats carry the bacteria at some point in their lives.
• Hookworm: Hookworms are tiny parasites that animals can ingest from the environment or contract through their mother’s milk. People get hookworm infections while walking barefoot, kneeling or sitting on ground contaminated with the stool of infected animals. According to PetMed, the hookworm larvae enter the top layers of skin.
• Ringworm: A very contagious fungal infection, ringworm really isn’t a worm at all. It occurs in the top layer of the skin and is contagious to dogs, cats, horses and other animals. Humans can get ringworm from touching surfaces that a pet or another person with ringworm has touched.
• Psittacosis: Also known as Parrot Fever, this is a bacterial infection acquired from breathing in dried feces or respiratory tract fluids from infected birds. This includes parrots, parakeets, macaws and cockatiels. It can cause severe respiratory symptoms or no symptoms at all. Cleaning a bird cage frequently is essential.
• COVID-19: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that a few dogs and cats have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 after they were in close contact with people infected with the virus. Based on limited information, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered low.