Nothing beats cuddling with your pet. However, your furry pal may be doling out more than sweet snuggles—they may be transmitting diseases to you and your family. Learn how to prevent your pet from transmitting a zoonotic disease to you and your family by reading our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team’s guide to common parasites and pathogens.

Internal parasites you can contract from your pet

Good hygiene, and proper food handling and preparation can minimize your internal parasite contraction risk, but infections can still occur. Your pet can transmit these common internal parasites:

  • Roundworms — One of the most common intestinal parasites, roundworms are capable of being transmitted through the placenta and mother’s milk, infecting newborn puppies and kittens. These spaghetti-like worms can also be transmitted to people via contact with soil contaminated with roundworm eggs. Children most commonly contract roundworm infections, but adults who garden or work with soil are also at risk. Most people infected with roundworms have no symptoms, but this parasite can travel throughout the body, causing fever, cough, pneumonia, liver disease, and blindness.
  • Hookworms — Pets can pick up hookworms through nursing from an infected mother, ingesting eggs, or experiencing skin penetration. People contract hookworms by walking barefoot on contaminated soil or sand. A person who contracts a hookworm infection can develop an itchy, raised, red rash, or, less commonly, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
  • Toxoplasma gondii — Typically, cats who eat infected birds, rodents, or other small animals can contract toxoplasmosis. After being shed by an infected animal, the parasite can live in the environment for many months, infecting pets and people via contact with contaminated soil, vegetables, fruits, and litter boxes. Toxoplasmosis causes severe illness in unborn children if the mother is exposed to this parasite during pregnancy. While symptoms may not immediately develop, children can eventually develop seizures, mental instability, and vision loss. Immunocompromised people are also at risk, and may develop headache, confusion, fever, poor coordination, vomiting, and seizures.

External parasites you can contract from your pet

External parasites can make your skin crawl—literally. The most common external parasites your pet can transmit to you include:

  • Fleas — These tiny, wingless insects can leap a great distance, which enables them to ditch your pet and jump on you. However, fleas typically prefer an animal host to a human, but extreme home infestations can also affect people. Flea bites can cause humans to develop an itchy rash or skin infection. In rare cases, a person can also contract murine typhus or plague. 
  • Ticks — While ticks also prefer animal hosts to humans, your furry pal can carry these parasites into your home. If a tick bites you and remains attached, you can contract myriad diseases, depending on the parasite’s species. Some of the most common tick-borne illnesses include Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Southern tick-associated rash illness. Many tick-borne diseases cause people to experience similar symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and rash.
  • Sarcoptic mange mites — Sarcoptic mange (i.e., scabies) causes intense itching. Unlike demodectic mange, sarcoptic mange is contagious and can be transmitted from pets to people. The sarcoptic mange mite usually settles in skinfolds, causing people to experience an itchy rash in their armpits, finger webbing, and inner elbows, wrists, and knees.

Bacteria, viruses, and fungi you can contract from your pet

Many pathogens can be transmitted from animals to people, so always practice good hygiene after handling any animal, whether they have feathers, fur, or scales. If you have been in contact with your pet or any animal, you can be exposed to these common pathogens: 

  • Rabies — Fortunately—through intensive vaccination protocols—this fatal disease has largely been eradicated in the U.S. domestic animal population. Rabies is transmitted via an infected animal’s bite or scratch. The rabies incubation period—the time between exposure and symptoms’ appearance—can last weeks to months. Initial rabies symptoms are similar to the flu, and include weakness, discomfort, fever, or headache. Symptoms then progress to cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion, agitation, hallucinations, hydrophobia, and insomnia. Once infection signs appear, the disease is almost always fatal.
  • Leptospirosis — A bacterium commonly found in and around water, lepto can infect any mammal. Typically, people contract the disease by swimming in contaminated water, but they can also contract the illness by coming in contact with an infected pet’s urine. Humans’ symptoms range widely, but can include high fever, headache, chills, muscle ache, vomiting, jaundice, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or rash.
  • Cat scratch disease — Fleas are the initial vector for cat scratch disease. A person can contract this disease after being scratched by a cat who has been bitten by a flea infected with Bartonella henselae. The bacteria can cause a painful infection, swelling, and lesions. A person infected with cat scratch disease may also develop fever, headache, poor appetite, and exhaustion.
  • Salmonella and Escherichia coli — These two bacteria can be transmitted to people via contact with livestock, reptiles, and amphibians. In addition, you can contract these diseases through the handling or ingestion of unwashed vegetables and raw meat, which can be a concern if feeding your pet a raw diet. Both bacteria cause similar symptoms, including diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.
  • Ringworm — Pets can transmit this fungus to people through close contact, or when a person handles contaminated objects. People who develop ringworm can have itchy skin, a ring-shaped rash, hair loss, and red, scaly, cracked skin.

To protect you, your family, and your pet from zoonotic diseases, keep your furry pal’s vaccinations and parasite prevention up-to-date. If you suspect your pet has a zoonotic disease, or is due for their annual wellness exam, contact our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team to schedule an appointment.