Pets contribute so much to your life, but like your other family members, they can spread diseases to you. By providing information about the diseases your pet can transmit, our team at Southwest Vet wants to help you and your family avoid infection. 

#1: Your pet can transmit rabies to you

Rabies is an extremely dangerous viral disease that affects all mammals. Every year, about 400 to 500 cases of rabies are reported in domestic pets.

  • Transmission — Disease typically spreads when an infected pet or wild animal bites another animal or a person. The rabies virus is secreted in saliva, and transmission can also occur if your pet licks your open wound. 
  • Signs in pets — Signs in pets typically manifest in two weeks to four months and include fever, excessive drooling, uncharacteristic aggression, paralysis, and seizures.
  • Signs in people — The rabies incubation period for humans and pets is similar, and signs include fever, headache, agitation, confusion, difficulty swallowing, a fear of water, hallucinations, and paralysis.
  • Treatment — Once signs manifest, most rabies cases are fatal in pets and humans. Humans should seek post-exposure prophylactic treatment immediately after they have been bitten by a pet or any animal that may have rabies.
  • Prevention — All pets should receive a rabies vaccination by the time they are 4 months of age, and regular booster vaccines every one to three years. No rabies vaccine is available for humans. In addition, you should prevent your pets from coming in contact with wild animals.

#2: Your pet can transmit leptospirosis to you

Leptospirosis is an infection caused by Leptospira bacteria. The organism is ubiquitous in soil and still bodies of water. 

  • Transmission — Transmission occurs when mucous membranes come in contact with infected urine, or urine-contaminated soil, water, food, or bedding. In addition, infection can occur from an infected animal’s bite or by eating infected tissue.
  • Signs in pets — Signs can vary in pets, with some infected pets having mild issues and spontaneously recovering, and others becoming severely ill. Signs may include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle soreness, decreased appetite, increased thirst and urination, and yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes (i.e., jaundice).
  • Symptoms in people — In people, leptospirosis can cause an array of symptoms that  include fever, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
  • Treatment — Treatment for humans and pets involves administration of antibiotics and supportive care, depending on the severity of the patient’s condition.
  • Prevention —  Keep your dog from swimming in or drinking from natural still bodies of water (e.g., lakes, ponds, puddles). If this is unavoidable, steer them toward clear, flowing areas of water (e.g., shallow rivers and streams). A vaccination is available for dogs, and you can ask our veterinary professionals whether this may help your dog.

#3: Your pet can transmit cat scratch disease to you

Cat scratch disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 12,000 people are infected by cat scratch disease, with about 500 people hospitalized, every year.

  • Transmission — Cats contract Bartonella henselae from an infected flea bite, and can pass the disease to humans by biting or scratching them. In addition, they can pass the disease to humans if they lick an open wound, such as a scratch or bug bite on their owner’s skin.
  • Signs in pets — Infected cats do not exhibit signs.
  • Symptoms in people — Symptoms in people include fever, enlarged lymph nodes, and papules or pustules around the wound. In some cases, infections of the eye, liver, spleen, brain, bones, or heart valves can occur. People who have a weakened immune system are at an increased risk of infection.
  • Treatment — Most infections in humans and pets resolve without treatment, but antibiotics may be necessary in some cases. In addition, supportive care may be necessary, depending on the case severity.
  • Prevention — To prevent cat scratch disease, provide your cat with a year-round flea preventive, and regularly trim their nails. 

#4: Your pet can transmit intestinal parasites to you

Your pet can transmit intestinal parasites (i.e., hookworms, tapeworms, and roundworms)  to you and your family. Children are at the highest risk for contracting these infections.

  • Transmission — Transmission occurs when the parasite eggs are accidentally ingested. In addition, hookworms can penetrate the skin, and tapeworms can be transmitted by ingesting an infected flea.
  • Signs in pets — Infected pets may show no signs, but when signs are present, they include weight loss, poor hair coat, and anemia. Tapeworm segments can also be seen on your pet’s hind end and in their feces.
  • Symptoms in people — Common symptoms in infected people include abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, lethargy, and itching around the anus.
  • Treatment — Intestinal parasites in pets and in humans are treated by the administration of an appropriate antiparasitic medication.
  • Prevention — Your pet should have a fecal check at least once per year to ensure they are parasite free. They should also receive a year-round intestinal parasite preventive, which is usually included in flea and tick or heartworm prevention medications.

#5: Your pet can transmit toxoplasmosis to you

Toxoplasmosis is caused by the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can affect all mammals. Cats are definitive hosts, meaning they are the only animals that are able to pass oocytes in their feces and infect other pets and people.

  • Transmission — Cats typically are infected with toxoplasmosis when they eat an infected animal, such as a rodent. Humans can be infected by handling the litter of an infected cat.
  • Signs in pets — Most infected cats appear healthy, but signs may include lethargy, decreased appetite, coughing, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, eye problems, and neurological problems.
  • Symptoms in people — Most people do not exhibit infection signs, but may have mild flu-like symptoms (i.e., fever, mild aches and pains, and enlarged lymph nodes).
  • Treatment — Most people clear toxoplasmosis with no treatment, but immunocompromised people may need antibiotics.
  • Prevention — Wash your hands thoroughly after handling your cat’s litter.

As long as you take precautions, your risk of disease from your pet is extremely low. If your pet needs flea and tick or intestinal parasite prevention medication, contact our team at Southwest Vet, so we can help keep you and your pet healthy.