Infectious Diseases You Can Get from Your Pets

Picture of a pug and grey cat

Many illnesses can’t be transferred from an animal to a human, but there are some that can. Some of them are contagious and can infect everyone in your household while others are a result of poor hygiene in the pet’s living environment.

In this article, we will look at several common pet-borne diseases. Initially, we wanted to categorize them depending on whether you can get them from dogs or cats, but since many of them are common to both of these species, we decided to tackle each type of illness in particular.


You can get rabies from cats, dogs, and other types of animals, too. If you haven’t vaccinated your pet and you take a stroll through the woods and leave your dog to run freely, he or she might be bitten by an infected animal. Of course, nowadays the incidence of this disease has decreased significantly because most pet parents vaccinate their companions.

While vaccines are incredibly effective and do offer the right immunity, they have a limited time span. Typically, the rabies vaccine has to be repeated every two years to keep your pet protected. On top of everything, if you intend to travel with your furry buddy internationally, you will be asked for documentation, and this is the most important type of immunity your dog or cat has to have.


While it is considerably less common in cats, especially those that only live indoors, this disease can affect dogs quite commonly. It is caused by a bacteria, and it is typically transmitted through the urine of infected animals. So, again, if your dog takes a walk and comes in contact with the urine of an animal that carries Leptospira, he or she could become infected and then infect you.

This illness is quite dangerous since it can cause anything from liver failure to kidney damage, meningitis, and respiratory distress. In some cases, it can even cause death. It can be prevented through vaccination, and your veterinarian will most likely recommend this type of vaccine, especially to dog owners.

Salmonella and Pasteurella

We have grouped these two together because they are both caused by bacteria. Dogs and cats can sometimes carry Salmonella, but in most cases, you’ll notice symptoms such as diarrhea and intestinal distress if that does happen, and the same clinical signs are discernible in infected people. One thing we would like to note is that most pet reptiles carry Salmonella, so it might be a good idea to handle them with gloves especially if you haven’t cleaned their living environment for a while.

Pasteurella can be found in the mouths of most cats, and there’s pretty much no way of you making sure you don’t get the bacteria through a scratch or bite. It’s particularly dangerous for children, and it can cause serious skin infections (cellulitis). The bacteria can spread to humans from an animal’s nose mucus or saliva, in some cases. Once they are bitten by an infected cat, children can develop redness, swelling, and warmth in the area where they have sustained the injury. There are complications, however, such as arthritis and osteomyelitis (infections of the joints and bones), and although they are very rare, kids can also get pneumonia or urinary tract infections caused by the same germ.


Almost all warm-blooded mammals can be affected by tuberculosis, and while there are differences in terms of the type of specific bacteria that affect each species, that doesn’t mean that a dog or a cat can’t get it from a cow by drinking milk, for example. There is a myth according to which the famous author Jane Austen got tuberculosis by drinking infected milk and eventually died from it.

The infection can occur in several ways. Dogs and cats can either drink unpasteurized cow’s milk or eat carcasses of infected animals or if they live close to farm animals, they can get it through inhalation (close contact to wildlife or other infected pets or livestock). If your pet is diagnosed with tuberculosis, you will have to be screened so as to make sure that you don’t have the disease. Sometimes, it can take quite a while for an infected person to manifest any symptoms, and that’s because the bacteria causes slow but serious damage inside the lungs. During all that time, you could be contagious and could pass the disease to other people you interact with. Tuberculosis can be prevented through vaccination – the practice is not common in animals, but it is quite so in humans, especially those who are at risk.


Toxoplasma is a common parasite that can be found in cats, especially those that are young. Usually, it is more prevalent in outdoor cats, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t occur in indoor ones, especially if you’ve recently adopted a stray. While the disease per se rarely has any clinical signs when an adult human is affected, it can be quite dangerous for pregnant women. Unfortunately, the infection can lead to severe complications for the developing fetus.

There are many ways in which this disease can be prevented, and you don’t have to give up your beloved feline companion if you’re going to become a parent. You can test your cat regularly for toxoplasmosis, and you can take simple precautions around hand hygiene, especially that involving cleaning your cat’s litter. Also, avoid eating uncooked garden produce if you let your cat outdoors and he or she has access to the soil.

All Types of Worms

From cats, you can get ringworms, roundworms, tapeworms, and hookworms, and from dogs, you can get all of these plus Echinococcus. Needless to say, all of these parasites can be prevented thanks to preventative medication. If you want to keep yourself and the members of your family completely healthy, you have to make sure that your dog or cat is worm-free. Because the vast majority of the over-the-counter drugs that you can get for treating and preventing internal parasites in animals can be somewhat toxic, we advise you to ask a vet before buying one. You have to make sure that the dosage is right in the sense that a young pup shouldn’t get the same dose as an adult 50-pound dog.

Cat Scratch Disease

This is a bacterial disease that can be spread from one feline to another by fleas. However, people typically become infected from a cat’s bite or scratch. If you are unlucky enough to develop the medical condition, you might experience mild flu-like symptoms or more severe problems including damage to the heart valves.

There are many ways in which you can prevent Bartonellosis (that’s the scientific name of the disease). First of all, you can make sure that your cat is always flea-free. If possible, avoid the type of play that could lead to bites or scratches, and even more important, don’t let your cat lick an open wound, if you have one. If your cat has bitten or scratched you, you have to wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap right away. If the site of the bite or scratch gets infected, contact your physician immediately.

Lyme Disease

This is a disease that’s actually not transmitted by the pet itself but rather by the ticks that have sucked on your furry companion’s blood, and now they’re on the hunt for a new host. The illness can cause headaches, muscle or joint pain, or fever, or worse, when it goes untreated, it can even cause heart and nerve inflammation. You can pick up a tick if you go for a picnic, so sometimes your pet can have no involvement whatsoever. Tick preventives are great at reducing the chances of you and your canine or feline friend becoming infected.


This mite is a highly contagious skin parasite that burrows into the skin and causes severe itching, and that can result in hair loss and the formation of scabs. It’s nonseasonal, unlike other types of external parasites such as fleas and ticks. By the way, ticks are more prevalent in the spring and fall while fleas thrive in the summer.

Scabies is more or less difficult to diagnose, especially in the incipient phase of the disease. Skin scrapings can be unreliable, and sometimes the dog might have to receive medication even if the diagnosis isn’t clear. Scabies is zoonotic, which means that it can be passed from your pet to you, and rashes and itchiness are two of the clinical signs that characterize the disease in humans. We’ll put your mind at ease by telling you that both your pet and yourself can be treated effectively.


Because not all pet parents have dogs or cats, we decided to include this illness here, as well. It is a bacterial infection that you can get from breathing in respiratory tract fluids or dried feces from infected birds. It occurs in cockatiels, parrots, parakeets, and macaws, and its detection in the birds can be quite difficult since in most cases, there are no symptoms whatsoever.

Infected people develop flu-like symptoms or respiratory distress after having come in contact with a sick bird. If you suspect that your pet bird might be infected, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Avoid purchasing birds that have nasal or eye discharge, low body weight, or diarrhea. Preventing the disease can be done thanks to basic hygienic measures such as cleaning and disinfecting the pet’s cage regularly.


As you can see, there are quite a lot of diseases that people can pick up from pets, but that shouldn’t deter you from wanting to have one. Zoonoses aren’t as common as you might think, and let’s not ignore the fact that most of the diseases that we’ve tackled here are completely preventable and treatable (with the exception of rabies, which needs to be prevented).

If you didn’t know, reverse zoonoses are possible, as well, with pets being able to pick up diseases from people, too. A 2014 study found that 38% of these are caused by bacteria, 29% are viral, 21% are caused by parasites, and 13% are caused by other pathogens or fungi. Pets can get ringworm, influenza, mumps, salmonella, giardia, MRSA, and tuberculosis from people. The point here is that, in order to have a happy life alongside your pet, both you and the animal have to be healthy, so try to focus on prevention.



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