Turns out cat-scratch fever is a real thing. And so are a host of other illnesses that can be transmitted from pet to person. How common is it for a human to catch a disease from their pet? Not very, says the CDC, which offers a detailed rundown of what to watch for from your cat, dog, ferret, or fish. Got a gecko? Your diarrhea might be a result of an Aeromonas infection passed along by Li’l Gordon Gekko.
Again, such transmissions are uncommon, and you can take a few easy steps to keep kitty from making the kids sick. Here are some common pet-to-person illnesses—and ways to avoid them.
You know how people often say dog’s mouths are cleaner than people’s? They’re still not clean. Among the bacteria they transmit is this one, which is also carried by cats and can cause humans to get infections of the gums, eyes, or respiratory tract. Most humans who come into contact with this bacteria do not become ill, but close contact will transmit it, and you’re especially at risk if you’ve been bitten by a dog or cat.
There are lots of ways to contract toxoplasmosis, which causes flulike symptoms but is especially dangerous for pregnant women. It’s most commonly transmitted through food. Cat feces also can carry it, providing yet another reason to use great care while cleaning the litterbox—and to clean it daily; toxoplasmosis in cat poo doesn’t become infectious for one to five days after it has been excreted.
Usually caused by dog bites from an infected animal, the rabies virus can be deadly. It attacks the nervous system, causing weakness, fever, and headache, but when it progresses brings hallucinations and delirium. If it progresses to that point, it is almost always fatal. Which is why starting rabies shots immediately after an animal bite is so important.
Contact with the fungus that causes ringworm will give it a chance to take root in your skin. The fungus can live on clothing or towels or on a whole host of animals. Puppies and kittens are especially likely to develop and transmit ringworm. The rash that it causes isn’t serious, although it may be itchy. A simple drying cream may help send it on its way, but you might need an antifungal cream.
Diarrhea, cramps, fever, and sometimes vomiting result from an infection of campylobacter. More than 1.5 million Americans experience this infection each year, usually from eating undercooked meat but sometimes from contact with an infected pet’s feces.
Love on your pets but stay healthy
Your chance of developing an illness from your pets is far from daunting, and pets bring so many excellent benefits to your well-being that—unless someone in your household is immunocompromised—they’re more than worth the risk.
To minimize risk, you likely have little to change in your daily routine. Gloves are a good idea when dealing with feces, and as ever, hand-washing can prevent a whole multitude of human harms. Keep your pets’ bowls clean and keep them up-to-date on their own health check-ups and shots. And then pet, pat, tussle, and snuggle to your heart’s content.