Zoonotic diseases are those that can be passed between humans and animals. With over half of U.S. homes containing at least one pet, it’s more important than ever to understand how you can protect your family, both two-legged and four, from zoonotic diseases.
Zoonotic Diseases In Pets
Zoonotic diseases can affect anyone, but those with weakened immune systems, such as the very old or young or people with ongoing health issues, should be especially careful to avoid exposure.
Rabies – This devastating disease claims nearly 50,000 human lives worldwide each year. Although it’s generally associated with wildlife, any mammal, including humans and pets, can contract rabies through a bite or scratch from an infected animal.
Toxoplasmosis – Cats are the primary host for toxoplasmosis, and infected cats can shed the organism in their feces where it can be passed to humans. People with healthy immune systems generally don’t have to worry about toxoplasmosis, but those who are pregnant or immunocompromised should avoid all contact with cat feces. Keeping cats indoors at all times helps prevent them from ever coming into contact with toxoplasmosis.
Leptospirosis – Leptospirosis bacteria reside in soil and water and are spread through the urine of infected animals. Leptospirosis can make pets extremely ill, even resulting in kidney or liver failure if left untreated. Humans can get the disease directly from pets, but most cases of human Leptospirosis result from water recreation or contact with contaminated soil.
Intestinal parasites – Certain worms that may live inside your pet, such as roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and more, can be passed to people in a variety of ways.
Tularemia – Tularemia, also called “rabbit fever”, can be passed to humans by handling an infected live or dead animal, or through the bite of a tick or deerfly.
MRSA – MRSA is not common in pets, but it does happen on occasion. Pets with an active MRSA infection can transmit it to people via direct contact with infected items, such as bedding or feces.
Keeping Your Family Safe
Although the list of zoonotic diseases sounds scary, there’s no reason to panic. Reducing you and your pet’s risk of coming into contact with one of these conditions is simple:
- Bring your pet in for all of their wellness exams, and make sure to keep them up to date on vaccines and parasite preventives.
- Practice good hygiene by washing your hands after handling pets or pet waste and regularly cleaning pet bedding and any other surfaces your pet comes into contact with, such as pillows, blankets, rugs, and upholstery.
- Wear protective gloves while gardening or working around standing water and always wash hands afterward.
- Keep your pets and children away from wildlife, alive or dead.
- Avoid letting your pet lick you or your children on the face and lips.
- Keep any open cuts covered and protected.
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