You will be familiar with warnings that you may catch some unpleasant diseases from your pet. These infections are known as zoonoses and include rabies, ringworm, Toxoplasmosis and a number of bacterial infections. The infections can be picked up by hand-to-mouth contact or by contamination of a skin wound. Simple attention to hygiene and vaccinations are usually sufficient to keep these potential issues at bay.
But what about reverse zoonoses? Can our pets contract diseases from us?
Reverse zoonoses are rare, but they do happen. A recent review of the available academic literature found 56 articles which documented human-to-animal transmission of disease. 38% of these cases were caused by bacteria, 29% were viral, 21% parasitic, and 13% fungal or caused by other pathogens. Wildlife, farm animals and pets were all affected.
The diseases which humans are known to be able to transmit to animals are as follows:
Ringworm (dermatophytosis), is a skin infection which is caused by a fungus and not a parasite. In humans, it causes circular areas of redness which can be itchy. In dogs and cats, it results in similar circular patches of baldness. This condition is transmitted by direct contact with an infected individual or via contaminated objects. Ringworm can cause scarring and so should be taken seriously but is eminently treatable.
Cats, dogs and even ferrets have been found to be infected with the H1N1 influenza virus and in circumstances where the virus appears to have come from humans. Animals exhibit similar symptoms to people and the condition is occasionally fatal.
Mumps is a viral disease which causes fever and headache in humans. These symptoms are usually followed by a characteristic swelling of the parotid salivary glands in the neck. Occasionally there are serious complications. It is a notifiable disease which is known also known to affect dogs which exhibit similar signs to humans.
Salmonella is usually the result of contaminated food but can be passed between animals and humans. Animals may also contract Salmonella from humans. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, headaches, and abdominal cramps and are common to people and their pets.
Giardia infection, or giardiasis, is spread via drinking water. The condition can infect dogs, cats and humans, and may spread between species. The main symptom is diarrhoea.
This superbug is caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria. It usually causes skin infections, but pneumonia, surgical site infections, septicaemia, and other complications are also possible in humans. MRSA can be carried by humans and dogs, with transmission occurring in both directions.
This is a chronic respiratory infectious disease caused by bacteria. TB can affect almost all warm-blooded mammals. Symptoms include coughing, weight loss, lumps, abscesses and bite wounds which fail to heal. The bacterium which usually causes TB in humans rarely infects pets but transmission is possible via inhalation and infected wounds.
How to Prevent the Spread of Disease
Your pet is safer in your presence than it would be socialising with other animals. But it is still possible to transmit your illnesses. A few simple precautions will protect both you and your pet. Try to avoid close contact with your animal, prevent your pets from drinking from toilet bowls and don’t share your bed with your animals if you are sick. Wash your hands after feeding, petting or cleaning up after your animals.