Pets are often considered members of the family. Unfortunately, love is not the only thing your furry friend can give you. The Village Vets provide their expert advice about diseases you can catch from your pet.
Pets these days are often considered members of the family. They live inside with us, and in some households may even share our food or beds! Unfortunately, our pets don’t necessarily share the same hygiene standards as we do.
This can expose us to infectious diseases which can spread from animals to humans, and even in some cases from humans to animals. Diseases such as these which are able to cross species are called zoonotic diseases. They are most commonly caused by bacteria and parasites which can live internally or externally on your pet.
Exposure to these infectious agents may be in the form of direct contact with your pet (e.g. petting, or being bitten or scratched by your pet) or by inadvertent ingestion of matter contaminated with infected faeces.
The most common external parasites with zoonotic potential are fleas and mites. They tend to cause mild skin irritation, which can be itchy and uncomfortable but is not particularly dangerous to our health. Any close contact, such as petting or sleeping with an infected pet, increases the likelihood of a flea or mite jumping onto you. If there are fleas on your pet, then there are more than likely fleas in the environment (your house!) which can also feed on you and your family.
There are also zoonotic diseases that fleas can pass on to you by biting you – like the Bubonic Plague! This another reason why flea control is so important. Another common zoonotic disease is ringworm, which is actually a fungal disease. This is often contracted from kittens, forming a red circular lesion which can be very itchy and uncomfortable.
There are also several internal parasites that can cause very serious disease if the young, elderly or immunocompromised are exposed. The zoonotic internal parasites that we see most commonly are Round Worms, Hydatid Tape Worms and Toxoplasmosis. Round worms can cause a dangerous condition of the eye and liver, tape worms form cysts in your tissue which can cause serious problems if a cyst bursts and toxoplasmosis can cause abortion. Scary stuff!
These parasites are contracted by unknowingly ingesting microscopic particles of infected faeces which have contaminated the environment. These diseases are most common in small children, as when playing in soil, little hands will often find their way into mouths. This is why washing your hands thoroughly after being in the garden or handling your pets is so important. Also, washing dirt from vegetables and fruit grown in the backyard can help reduce the chance of accidental ingestion.
The last zoonotic disease we will discuss today is called Cat Scratch Disease, and the name says it all! All animals – including us – have normal bacteria on our bodies and in our mouths which doesn’t cause us any problem. There is a normal bacteria that cats can carry, however, which doesn’t affect them but can cause us serious flu-like disease if we are bitten or scratched by an infected cat. This disease is easily prevented by avoiding getting bitten or scratched by a cat, or if you are injured by your cat, washing the wound or wounds thoroughly and seeking medical attention.
The disease discussed above are only a few of the many zoonotic diseases that can affect you and your pet. However with good hygiene and a regular flea and worm control program you can reduce or eliminate the risk of catching any of them. Remember if your pet doesn’t have the disease, then you can’t catch it from them!
If you are concerned that you or your pet may be suffering from a zoonotic disease or would like more information regarding any of these diseases, then contact your local physician and/or veterinarian as soon as possible. It is often easier to diagnose a zoonotic disease if your physician and veterinarian can consult with one another so don’t be afraid to suggest putting them into contact.
Do you have a question for Dr Anthony & Dr James? Ask them here.