10 Diseases You Can Get From Your Pet


Zoonoses, or zoonotic illnesses, are diseases that can be passed from pets to individuals.

Zoonoses, or zoonotic illnesses, are diseases that can be passed from pets to individuals. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the causative agents include bacteria, parasites, viruses, fungi, and unconventional agents such as mad cow disease.1 A few of the most common diseases are listed below.

Cat Scratch Fever

Also known as cat scratch disease (CSD), an infected cat develops this bacterial infection from ingesting flea feces or from infected ticks and passes it along to a human through a scratch or bite, or licking an owner’s open wound. According to the CDC, “CSD can cause people to have serious complications. CSD can affect the brain, eyes, heart, or other internal organs. These rare complications, which may require intensive treatment, are more likely to occur in children younger than 5 years and people with weakened immune systems.”2


Contact with contaminated cat feces can result in toxoplasmosis, a bacterial infection that can cause flu-like symptoms. It can also infect a fetus and result in miscarriage or birth defects in pregnant women.3

Hookworm and Roundworm

Found in the stools of dogs and cats, these intestinal parasites are typically picked up through skin-to-stool contact, but can also be transmitted through accidently ingesting the worm eggs. The American Veterinary Medical Association notes that, “Roundworm infection in people can cause serious, even life-threatening, illness when the parasites enter the organs. Lung, liver, or brain damage can occur. If the parasites enter the eyes, permanent blindness can result. Hookworms can cause severe itching and tunnel-like red areas as they move through the skin. If they are eaten, they can cause intestinal problems.”4


An owner can catch a tapeworm from their pet if they accidently swallow an infected flea that was on their pet. A tapeworm infestation typically goes unnoticed as many people do not show symptoms. However, in some cases, nausea, abdominal pain, fever, and weakness can occur.5


Common carriers of this disease are bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks that pass the virus along to dogs, cats, and cattle. According to WHO, “The initial symptoms of rabies are fever and often pain or an unusual or unexplained tingling, pricking, or burning sensation (paresthesia) at the wound site. As the virus spreads through the central nervous system, progressive, fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord develops.”6


Eating food contaminated with Salmonella can cause an infection in reptiles, amphibians, and other mammals, and the bacteria found in their feces are then transferred to their fur, feathers, or scales. By not practicing proper hygiene such as washing your hands after touching your pets or their bedding, food, or tanks, an owner can catch the infection, which typically results in vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps, according to the CDC.7

Lyme Disease

An outdoor cat or dog cannot give their owner this disease directly, but can pass on ticks that carry the bacteria. Without treatment or a medical diagnosis, Lyme disease can cause heart inflammation, pain, and mental challenges often misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, and fibromyalgia.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Much like Lyme disease, this illness is not directly transmitted from pet to owner, but via the ticks your pet may carry. “Early signs and symptoms are nonspecific and usually consist of fever, headache, fatigue, muscle pain, nausea or vomiting, and loss of appetite. If a rash develops, it appears 2 to 5 days after the fever begins,” explains Ronald D. Warner, DVM, MPVM, PhD, DACVPM, and Wallace W. Marsh, MD, FAAP.8

Parrot Fever

Also known as psittacosis, this bacterial infection is caused by inhaling your bird’s dried feces. The disease is difficult to diagnose, as an infected owner may experience flu-like or respiratory problems or no symptoms at all.

Reference List:

  • Zoonoses and the human-animal-ecosystems interface. World Health Organization website. www.who.int/zoonoses/en/. Accessed March 21, 2016.
  • Cat-scratch disease. CDC website. www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/cat-scratch.html. Updated April 30, 2014. Accessed March 23, 2016.
  • Parasites - toxoplasmosis (toxoplasma infection). CDC website. www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/. Updated January 10, 2013. Accessed March 23, 2016.
  • Disease risks for people at dog social events. American Veterinary Medical Association website. www.avma.org/public/petcare/pages/disease-risks-for-people.aspx. Accessed March 23, 2016.
  • Dipylidium FAQs. CDC website. www.cdc.gov/parasites/dipylidium/faqs.html. Updated January 10, 2012. Accessed March 21, 2016.
  • Rabies. World Health Organization website. www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs099/en/. Updated March 2016. Accessed March 23, 2016.
  • Salmonella infection. CDC website. www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/salmonella.html. Updated September 24, 2015. Accessed March 21, 2016.
  • Warner RD, Marsh WW. Rocky mountain spotted fever. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2002;221(10): 1413-1417
  • Psittacosis. CDC website. www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/atypical/psittacosis.html. Updated February 7, 2014. Accessed March 28, 2016.
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