Current public health events may have you wondering about zoonotic diseases (i.e., diseases that animals can pass to people). COVID-19 and monkeypox, for example, may have originated in wild animal species, but Americans have little risk of contracting these viruses from dogs, cats, or wildlife. However, each year, a few people in the U.S. do contract other infectious diseases from their family dog or cat. Read our Pierson Pet Hospital team’s common zoonotic disease countdown, and learn how to minimize your risk of contracting diseases from your pet.

#1: Cat and dog hookworms

Cats and dogs—especially puppies and kittens—can pass hookworm eggs in their stool. These eggs become infective on the ground, and can enter through your skin, causing cutaneous larval migrans. The key to preventing this zoonotic disease is your pet’s regular wellness visits, and if we diagnose your pet with hookworms, we will recommend a topical or oral monthly parasite preventive, which you must administer to your pet year-round. Always promptly pick up pet feces, and immediately dispose of it—especially in areas where children or adults walk barefoot.

#2: Cat and dog roundworms

You and your family can contract visceral larval migrans or ocular larval migrans by inadvertently ingesting infective roundworm eggs passed in your pet’s stool. Roundworms prefer their pet hosts, and in people, the larvae wander through organ and eye tissue, causing permanent blindness in 700 people in the U.S. each year. To prevent you and your family from contracting this infectious parasite, always:

  • Prevent children from placing soiled objects in their mouths
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before cooking and eating
  • Dispose of pet stool promptly
  • Follow our veterinary professionals’ puppy, kitten, cat, and dog parasite prevention recommendations

The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends that all cats and dogs receive regular deworming and fecal examinations.

#3: Canine and feline sarcoptic mange

Dogs and cats can contract sarcoptic mange mites that cause hair loss, crusty skin, and significant itchiness. The mites are contagious to people and other pets through close contact. If your pet has sarcoptic mange signs, schedule a veterinary appointment as soon as possible, so we can definitively diagnose the condition by performing a thorough physical exam and examining a skin crust sample through a microscope. Canine and feline sarcoptic mange has a good prognosis, and treatment is simple. Our veterinary professionals will explain how to clean your pet’s environment and minimize zoonotic risk.

#4: Cat toxoplasmosis

Up to 40% of U.S. cats have been exposed to toxoplasmosis, but only up to 1% of cats shed the infective stage in their stool—so the risk of contracting this disease from your family cat is low. Toxoplasmosis can cause you to experience fever and swollen lymph nodes, and immunocompromised people experience more severe signs. If the Toxoplasma gondii parasite infects a pregnant person, their fetus can be severely affected. However, fear of toxoplasmosis transmission should never force a pet owner to relinquish their cat. Minimize your toxoplasmosis risk by following these simple recommendations: 

  • Wear gloves while gardening.
  • Cover children’s sandboxes.
  • Wash vegetables well.
  • Do not clean the litter box if you are pregnant or immunocompromised.
  • Always wash your hands well before cooking or eating.
  • Prevent your cat from hunting or eating raw meat.
  • Provide your cat with regular veterinary care.

#5: Cat and dog ringworm

Ringworm, which causes red, circular skin lesions, is not caused by a worm, but a fungus. Young, elderly, and immunocompromised people have the highest risk of contracting ringworm after prolonged contact with an infected dog or cat. If we suspect your pet has ringworm, our veterinary team will perform laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis, and treat your pet with oral medication and topical treatment. We will also describe to you how to clean your home effectively to rid the environment of ringworm. If anyone in your household develops skin lesions, they should seek medical treatment.

#6: Canine and feline rabies

An infected animal’s saliva transmits the rabies virus through biting. During 2020, the State of Michigan reported 56 wild animals as positive for rabies, but because of the state’s responsible pet owners, no cats or dogs tested positive for the virus during that period. Nationwide, however, 37 dogs and 288 cats tested positive for rabies during 2020. In 2021, the U.S. reported five human rabies cases, all of whom died. Because rabies is a highly fatal zoonotic disease, Michigan law requires all puppies and kittens 12 weeks of age and older to be vaccinated against this disease. To prevent rabies transmission to people, ensure your pet is vaccinated, and avoid contact with stray animals and wildlife. Seek medical care if an animal bites you, or if you come in contact with a bat.

To minimize the risk of your pet transmitting a zoonotic disease to you and your family, follow our Pierson Pet Hospital team’s recommendations for regular veterinary careand practice effective hygiene protocols at home. If we diagnose your pet with a zoonotic disease, we recommend you consult with your primary care physician.