July 6 was World Zoonoses Day, so we decided to make that our bulletin board focus of the month. A zoonotic disease is any disease that can be transferred between humans and animals. Everyone always thinks of rabies as the immediate choice when talking about a disease that humans can get from dogs and cats, but there are actually many diseases that can be spread to us from our pets. Keep reading for a quick overview of six of these diseases that we chose to highlight.
Rabies is spread through the saliva of infected animals. The only ways people (and other animals) can get rabies is if they are bit by an infected animal or an infected animal licked an already existing wound. The most common carriers of rabies in Michigan are bats and skunks. Dogs and cats are infected if they are bitten by or eat one of those carrier animals.
When people are infected, symptoms are usually similar to the flu. However, they then worsen to neurological problems and abnormal behaviors, and once an infection gets to the point of having visible clinical signs, it's almost always fatal.
BUT, there are many ways to prevent against rabies. The most obvious one is to vaccinate your pets - even indoor cats have the potential to be exposed to rabies if a bat were to somehow get into your house! Another thing to remember is to leave wildlife alone, especially if they're acting strangely. There are pre-exposure vaccines available for people in risky situations (like vets!), and there is post-exposure treatment available that is 100% effective in preventing the disease from progressing to the point of clinical signs.
Lepto is a bacterial infection spread through the urine of infected animals (often rodents). Often dogs come in contact with it through water or soil that has been contaminated, and people come in contact with it through cleaning up after dogs or not washing their hands after touching dogs.
If people are infected, they usually get fevers, chills, headaches and muscle aches, skin rashes, and GI signs. Some people will get better after those initial signs, but some get better and then get sick again, which can lead to liver failure, kidney failure, or meningitis.
This is another disease that dogs can be vaccinated for. Dr. Stacy often tells a story about a patient when she was in school who was a puppy that tested positive for lepto and was hospitalized on dialysis to try to prevent kidney failure. His owners came to visit him every day, until one day only his dad came. Turned out his mom had actually gotten sick with lepto, because since he was a puppy, they were cleaning up accidents around the house. It's a good reminder to always wash your hands and to vaccinate your dogs!
Cat Scratch Disease
This is an infection spread to people when an infected cat licks an open wound on a person or licks the skin hard enough to break the surface of the skin. Most infected cats don't show any signs that they are sick, but an infected person will typically get redness and swelling at the infection site, along with raised marks, swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, poor appetite, and exhaustion.
Kittens are more likely to both have this disease and spread it, since they are more likely to be licking. Keep cats away from open wounds, and if they lick at them, be sure to wash it well. Cats get this bacteria from fleas, so also use flea prevention!
Hookworm is an intestinal parasite that is spread through feces of dogs and cats. They pass eggs in feces and those eggs can end up in the environment. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae can infect people by getting through unprotected skin - often when people walk barefoot or sit on the ground and have skin-to-ground contact.
Infected people can get what's called cutaneous larva migrans, which is when the larvae move through the skin and cause skin inflammation, raised red lines, and itchiness.
Tips for preventing against hookworm are wearing shoes and avoiding skin contact with soil or sand, especially in warmer climates. Also keep up to date on regular deworming of your pets, and immediately clean up pet waste in the yard.
Ringworm is a fungal infection that is spread by touching a contaminated animal or object that a contaminated animal has touched. On pets, it looks like hairless patches where the skin is red, crusty, or scaly. Sometimes it's itchy, sometimes it's not. In people, it looks like a ring-like rash (hence, ringworm).
Tips for preventing against ringworm are washing your hands well after touching animals, especially if you know an animal is infected. If you have an infected animal, you'll want to vacuum and disinfect all areas and objects that animal has been around. It's also important that if one pet has it, you check all of the pets in the household, because they may have it too.
Giardia is another intestinal parasite that is shed in feces and infects people after it is ingested - whether that's a person's hand touching an infected animal or contaminated surface and later touching their face or drinking contaminated water. It can survive in soil and water sources for MONTHS at a time! It causes GI upset in both people and pets - diarrhea, gas, abdominal discomfort, nausea, and vomiting.
Yet again, the keys to preventing against this disease are good hygiene - washing hands, cleaning up around infected animals and areas they've been in, promptly cleaning up pet waste, and avoiding contaminated environments. It's also important that after treating a pet for giardia, that they get a bath at the end of treatment, otherwise it's possible they still have some eggs on their skin or fur that could reinfect them.