Zoonosis: Four Ways Your Pet's Health Could Affect Yours

Owning a companion animal has been shown to reduce stress, hypertension, and heart disease and generally enhance our lives. However, they do present some dangers as well. Pets can carry diseases and parasites that can be passed to humans. The key to your family's safety is to educate yourself about these diseases, called zoonoses, and how to protect your pets and yourselves.


Of all zoonotic diseases, rabies is the most deadly. Rabies is a virus that is passed between mammals via saliva. Because of vaccination programs and quarantine regulations, rabies is mostly confined to wildlife, such as raccoons, skunks, and bats. However, every year there are a few cases of domestic animals becoming infected, and those humans who come in contact with these animals must get painful prophylactic injections.

Your dog or cat does not need to leave the yard to come in contact with infected animals. Wild animals, especially bats, can easily enter your yard. Routine rabies vaccinations are an inexpensive insurance policy against this fatal disease.


Hookworms are internal parasites that can infect dogs and cats. They feed on the intestinal lining and, in severe cases, can cause anemia, debilitation, and in rare cases (mostly in kittens and puppies), death. The eggs are passed in the stool and picked up when stools or infected soil are ingested by other animals

Humans can be infected with hookworms if they accidentally ingest soil containing hookworm larva or their skin comes in contact with contaminated soil. Hookworm larvae can penetrate the skin and migrate under the skin causing redness and itching. In some cases, they can end up in the intestines, causing pain and inflammation. An infection can last for weeks or months until the body's immune system can rid itself of the infection. To prevent infection, ensure that your pets are tested and treated for hookworm regularly. Pick up feces in your yard daily, cover sandboxes or other potentially contaminated areas, and wash hands after handling your pets or their stools.  


Toxoplasmosis is a protozoan-caused disease in cats. They typically pick up the disease by eating infected rodents, then pass the eggs in their stools, which are then ingested by other animals. Humans can get toxoplasmosis through handling contaminated feces, such as when emptying the litter box. In cats, the disease may cause mild respiratory symptoms. In humans, the disease causes few if any symptoms, except in those people with compromised immune systems. In those people, it can cause flu and respiratory symptoms, and in severe cases, muscle damage. However, the disease can cause birth defects or abortions in pregnant women, so these women should avoid handling their kitty's litter box.

Cat Scratch Disease

Cat scratch disease is a bacterial disease transmitted from cat to cat through fleas. It is transmitted to humans through cat scratches or bites. Although cats usually display no symptoms, a human who is scratched or bitten by an infected cat can experience pain, fatigue, headaches, fever, and swollen lymph glands. In severe infections or in people with compromised immune systems, it can cause blood infections, eye infections, or heart and liver damage. Flea control measures will help protect your cat from the disease, and the best way to protect yourself and your family is to avoid rough play in which your cat may scratch or bite.

These are just a few examples of zoonotic diseases. Although these diseases can present serious threats, by being aware and taking preventative measures, you and your family can minimize the risks associated with pet ownership. The joys of sharing your life with a companion animal typically will far outweigh the risk. For more information, contact local professionals like Howard County Animal Hospital.