Dog sitting on owner's lap.

Zoonotic diseases have been a growing concern for both humans and animals. We have heard a lot recently about these diseases that are transmitted from wildlife to people and pets. There is currently much more of a spotlight on diseases, particularly viruses, that mutate and affect other species. 

This is why the team at Volunteer Veterinary Hospital is here with some insight into how to protect everyone from these serious diseases.

Zoonotic Disease in Pets

Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases that are caused by viruses, fungi, parasites, and bacteria. They range from mild-moderate symptoms to those that are deadly, like rabies. Zoonotic disease should be a serious concern, considering that an estimated 3 out of 4 infectious illnesses can be traced to animals. Many pets are asymptomatic, yet still can be the carriers of zoonoses. 

Common Zoonoses that Affect Pets

There are more than a hundred different forms of zoonoses in pets, but these are the ones we see more often:

  1. Giardia—Giardia is a protozoan organism that lives in water, soil, and the urine/feces of infected animals. Most pets pick up this illness, which causes diarrhea and vomiting, from drinking water that contains the organism.
  2. Intestinal parasites—There are a wide array of intestinal worms that are prevalent in dogs and cats, especially kittens and puppies. These include roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. They can cause problems in both pets and people, and can lead to sometimes serious infections. Kids are more at risk because they are more apt to put their hands in their mouth after handling animals. 
  3. Cat scratch disease—While many cats live with Bartonella henselae bacteria without falling ill, if they scratch or bite a human, it can cause swollen lymph nodes and fever. The best approach to keeping your cat free from this zoonotic disease is to keep them on a parasite prevention for cats, as fleas are the vectors that transmit the illness to felines.
  4. Toxoplasmosis—This is another protozoan infection that is shed in cat feces, as well as raw or undercooked meat. Pregnant women should avoid cleaning the litter box as the illness attacks the developing fetus. 
  5. Leptospirosis—This is a serious blood infection caused by the bacteria, Leptospira. This disease is on the rise, including in metropolitan areas, and is often spread by rodents. If you or your pet come into contact with the urine of rodents, most commonly in the soil, you can contract this illness. The symptoms can range from mild headaches and muscle pain to serious complications, like meningitis. 
  6. Rabies—Rabies is a fatal virus that is spread through the saliva of an animal. The chances of recovering from rabies is close to none, which is why rabies vaccinations are legally required for dogs and sometimes cats.

Other zoonotic diseases include bacterial infections, like salmonella, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

How to Protect Your Pet

To keep both you and your pet healthy and free from zoonoses, practice the following recommendations:

  • Make sure to take your pet to their twice annual wellness checkups for parasite screening and other pet diagnostics.
  • Keep your pet on flea, tick, and heartworm preventives.
  • Always provide your furry friend with clean drinking water and don’t allow them to drink from ditches, ponds, and other standing water sources.
  • Check your pet for fleas, ticks, and other parasites by inspecting their skin weekly, or after any hike.
  • Prevent your pet from coming into contact with wild animals, including their urine or feces.

Protecting your pet from zoonotic diseases requires vigilance and awareness. The first step to combat the spread of zoonotic diseases in pets is to have them examined, screened, vaccinated, and put on the right parasite control. If you have questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact us at (865) 609-2933