You share a lot with your pet—the couch, your bed, your time—and while sharing is generally a good thing, you’d probably rather not share some things with your pet. Disease, for instance. Zoonotic diseases can be transmitted from pets to people, and are a potential risk that every pet owner should know about. Our Groves Veterinary Clinic team is providing the answers you need about zoonotic disease transmission, and how you can prevent your pet from sharing illnesses.

#1: Will my pet always show zoonotic disease signs?

Zoonotic diseases are caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi that can be transmitted from animals to humans, causing many different illnesses that range in severity. You won’t always know if your pet is affected with a transmissible disease, because pets can appear healthy but still be sick. 

#2:  How are zoonotic diseases transmitted by pets?

You may assume that you’ll be safe from catching a zoonotic disease if you avoid things like letting your pet lick your face, but zoonotic diseases can be transmitted in several ways, including:

  • Direct contact  — Transmission can occur from close contact with an infected pet’s saliva, blood, urine, mucus, feces, or other body fluids. 
  • Indirect contact — Contact with contaminated items in your pet’s living environment, such as their toys or water dishes, can lead to transmission. 
  • Bites — Vector-borne transmission can occur through a bite from an infected insect, such as a tick, mosquito, or flea.
  • Food  — Contaminated animal products, such as unpasteurized milk or undercooked meat, can transmit disease. Transmission can also take place if you do not wash your hands before eating after handling an infected pet.
  • Water — Drinking water contaminated with an infected pet’s urine or feces can allow transmission.

#3: Can anyone get sick with disease transmitted by a pet?

Anyone can contract a zoonotic disease, but some people who become infected are more likely to become seriously ill. Higher risk groups who should take steps to protect themselves include:

  • Children younger than 5 years of age
  • Adults older than 65 years of age
  • People who are immunocompromised
  • Pregnant women

#4: Which zoonotic diseases are more commonly transmitted from pets to people?

While more than 100 zoonotic diseases are recognized, only a handful are relevant for North American pet owners. The most common diseases your pet can transmit to you and your family include:

  • Rabies virus
  • Bacterial infections 
  • Leptospirosis
  • Gastrointestinal parasites
  • Giardia
  • Lyme disease
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Ringworm
  • Scabies

#5: Are zoonotic diseases preventable in pets and people?

The good news is that most zoonotic diseases are easily preventable. To protect yourself and your pet, take the following precautions: 

  • Wash your hands — Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling pets and pet items, and before eating, preparing food, or touching your face. 
  • Clean pet items and hard surfaces — Regularly sanitize your pet’s bowls, litter box, toys, and hard surfaces they contact in your home.
  • Clean up pet waste — Nobody loves to deal with waste, but ensure you dispose of your pet’s waste quickly to minimize infection risk. Wear gloves when cleaning up pet waste, and wash your hands after you finish. 
  • Avoid contact with wildlife and unfamiliar animals — Your pets aren’t the only animals who can transmit zoonotic disease. Contact with infected wildlife also can lead to infection, so do not attract deer, squirrels, and birds with feeders to prevent exposure to wildlife droppings. Notify animal control officers or the nearest wildlife or conservation organizations if you find an injured or sick animal.
  • Parasite prevention — Ensure your pet receives year-round parasite preventives against ticks, fleas, and intestinal parasites.
  • Vaccinations — To protect your pet against preventable diseases, ensure their vaccinations are always current.
  • Maintain your pet’s health — Healthy pets are less susceptible to disease. Annual preventive care through wellness exams, blood work, and fecal screening tests can help ensure your pet stays healthy and reduce zoonotic disease risk.  

While you may be alarmed at the thought of your pet transmitting a zoonotic disease, taking a commonsense, proactive approach to pet care and cleanliness greatly reduces the likelihood of transmission. Then, you can focus on sharing only the good things—like unconditional love—with your pet. We can help share the love—contact our Groves Veterinary Clinic team to make an appointment for your pet’s wellness screening and to ensure their vaccinations are current.