Can You Get Sick From Your Pet?

on October 2, 2009
Posted in Cats

Even though the odds are against it, it is entirely possible for you to contract an illness from your pet. Called Zoonotic diseases, these are illnesses, infections and diseases that can be transmitted from an animal to a human being, such as Rabies for example.

Most people do not realize that even though there are thousands of different types of Zoonotic diseases, transmission from animal to human is actually quite rare. A Zoonotic disease can be transmitted in one of two distinct ways: Either from direct contact with the contaminated animal; or through contact with the animal’s feces.

However becoming informed about the most common Zoonotic diseases and how to prevent them will help you in reducing the possibility that you will get sick from your beloved pet.


Rabies is one the most commonly known Zoonotic disease, and for good reason! It is a fatal virus that attacks the central nervous system of its victims – dog, cat, raccoon, or human. Not every Rabid animal that you see will be foaming at the mouth, therefore the CDC recommends that not only should you always keep your own pets up to date on the Rabies vaccine but you should also avoid contact with any wild animal as well.

Rabies is spread through an animal bite, usually from a wild or sick animal as opposed to a household dog or cat. Always supervise your own pets to make sure that they do not interact with any wild animal lest they get bitten by Rabies-infected animal.

If you think you may have been bitten by a Rabid animal, immediately proceed to the ER. Symptoms of Rabies include: Headaches, fever, confusion, drowsiness and even slight hostility.

Cat Scratch Disease

Otherwise known as Bartonellosis, this disease is a type of bacteria that is carried by fleas that infest cats and kittens. The infested cat can then pass on the disease to a human through a bite or even a simple scratch.

Whether or not you know have been scratched by an infest cat, it is always a good idea to immediately wash the skin surrounding the scratch. Keep your cats nails trimmed down at all times. Kittens scratch more than adult cats do and this is a major cause of concern since they also carry this type of bacteria more frequently than adult cats. Eliminate and prevent any fleas on your cat and in your home immediately.

Symptoms of cat scratch disease are swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever and fatigue. People whose immune systems are in any way suppressed, such as chemotherapy patients, should be extra careful.


Another Zoonotic disease passed from household cats is Toxoplasmosis, which is caused by a parasite in the cat called Toxoplasma. It is passed via contact with the cat feces. For this very reason, pregnant women or women who are planning on becoming pregnant should avoid cleaning their cat’s litter box as Toxoplasma can affect the fetus. Avoiding handling and eating raw or undercooked meat is another way for everyone to prevent contracting Toxoplasmosis.

Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis are very similar to flu-like symptoms.


Ringworm is a fungal infection that affects the skin. It is more commonly contracted from cats than dogs, as cats carry the ringworm on their fur more often than dogs do. Whilst cats will hardly ever show any signs of infection, dog will usually have raised, circular lesions and hair loss around the infected area.

In humans, Ringworm creates red, itchy circular type lesions on the skin. Infection is caused by direct contact with an infected cat or dog, usually a puppy or kitten.

Whilst Ringworm is not considered to be dangerous, it cannot be entirely prevented either. Using an antifungal cream usually helps relieve the lesions in a few weeks. Keeping up with good hygiene is the best thing to prevent Ringworm.

Larval Migrans

Another Zoonotic disease that is passed through contact with the feces of a cat or dog is intestinal worms. Besides actually touching the feces, simply coming into contact with the soil in which the feces was on, can cause contamination and skin infection will eventually result. If you do not wash your hands, after touching the feces or the ground, before eating, you may unintentionally ingest the worm eggs. Once hatched these worms can then wreak havoc upon your body by being able to travel all around your insides, causing the most damage to your brain, lungs, and eyes.

Prevention is pretty simple: regularly de-worm your cat or dog! And always remember to wash your hands before eating. Keeping your yard free of feces is another great preventative measure.

Photo Credit: wolfsavard

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Read also: Understanding Liver Disease in Cats

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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