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Diseases We Can Get From Cats and Dogs

Updated on October 8, 2015
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The Professionals Refer To It As Zoonoses

We pet lovers are a passionate lot and I knew that such a provocative title would inflame that passion and bring you to this hub, perhaps “loaded for bear” and ready to give me a piece of your mind in the comment section below. Maybe you thought that I was writing figuratively but, in fact, I’m writing literally.

This is a hub about zoonoses (pronounced zoo-no-seez), or diseases that humans can catch from animals. And we’re not talking about obscure exotic diseases that are only found in the tropical rainforests, we’re talking some pretty common stuff that can make family members sick.

Take ringworm, for instance. First of all, they ought to rename it. It’s not a worm at all; it’s a fungus and it’s highly contagious. It gets its name from its appearance: round, flat, scaly, red patches with raised borders, where hair used to be.

We get it by petting an infected pet and not washing our hands. In humans it usually affects the scalp, starting out as a pimple then gradually spreading out, causing the surrounding hair to fall out. It makes one pretty itchy.

Here are some of the more common zoonotic diseases and a little about each:

Cat Scratch Disease or, as it’s commonly called, Cat Scratch Fever. About 40% of cats carry the bacteria Bartonella henselae at some point in their lives and they transmit it to us through bites and scratches. And, infected cats don’t show any signs of the disease so there’s no way to avoid it other than avoiding cats altogether. Not an option for many of us.

If we get infected, the symptoms are usually mild and include swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, fatigue and loss of appetite. There can be serious complications, though, for people with compromised immune systems..

● Tapeworm is a parasite that animals and people get by swallowing a flea. Pets swallow fleas during grooming, either themselves or another animal, of course, but how do humans swallow fleas? Probably a lot easier than you’d think.

Fleas can spring 3 feet high and 3 feet wide, so it’s not unreasonable that one could land in your food and you not realize it. I once tried unsuccessfully to stop a co-worker from swallowing a spoonful of chowder in which a fly had landed and become stuck. He never saw it. He ate it alive. I never told him. A flea in your salad could look like a spice or seasoning from the dressing. Think about it.

● Giardia is an intestinal parasite that’s transmitted via the feces of infected humans or animals, and by drinking contaminated water. In humans, mild to severe symptoms include watery foul-smelling diarrhea, stomach cramps, gas, fever, nausea, vomiting, and headache

The key to avoiding zoonotic diseases is to maintain good hygiene and sanitation habits, even more diligently where children are involved. Toddlers and younger children are quick to put their fingers in their mouths, and even older children are careless when it comes to sanitation. Come to think of it, so are many adults.

● Leptosporosis is a bacterial infection that is transmitted in the urine of a wide range of animals. The most common source of infection for humans is from dogs and rodents. We usually come in contact with contaminated soil or water.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list these symptoms: high fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice, red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rash. It’s considered a recreational hazard for those who swim, wade, kayak, or go rafting in contaminated lakes and rivers, and an occupational hazard for farmers and others who work with animals.

Lyme Disease is spread through the bites of infected ticks. In humans it causes flu-like symptoms which, if untreated, can advance to heart disease and neurological problems.

● Psittacosis, also known as parrot fever or avian chlamydiosis. Humans contract it by inhaling the dried droppings or nasal secretions of psittacine (parrot-like) birds such as parakeets, cockatiels and, of course, parrots. Turkeys and ducks are also sources of infection. In humans, symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a dry cough. Pneumonia is often seen on chest x-ray.

There are others, of course, but most are rare. If you’re interested, the CDC has a section on zoonoses where such diseases are listed alphabetically in an easy-to-browse format.

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