Pet owners enjoy sharing special time with their pets including couch cuddles, slobbery kisses, mealtime, and outdoor adventures. However some of these activities could result in disease spread in people who do not take precautions or pets who do not receive proper preventive care. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be spread from people to pets, or vice versa, and can be deadly in severe cases. Fortunately many preventive measures are available to ensure you and your pets are protected. Our Animal Emergency Care team describes zoonoses basics so that you understand disease types and risks and ways to prevent illness.

What are zoonotic diseases in pets?

More than 100 zoonotic diseases worldwide are caused by harmful germs such as parasites, viruses, bacteria, or fungi. Any aged pet or person is at risk of a zoonotic disease infection, but pets or people who are immunocompromised or suffering from other underlying disease are most at risk for severe illness. Common ways zoonotic diseases are spread include:

  • Direct contact with infected bodily fluids such as blood, urine, or feces
  • Touching an infected object or environment such as a food bowl, pet toy, or soil
  • Ingesting or handling contaminated food, raw food, or undercooked meats 
  • A sting or bite from an infected insect, such as a mosquito, flea, or tick
  • Drinking or swimming in a bacteria-contaminated water source

Additionally, pets who do not receive preventive care or those who have contact with infected environments, wildlife, or people, are at increased risk for contracting a zoonotic disease. Common zoonotic disease types include: 

  • Bacteria E.coli and salmonella are easily spread by fecal contamination of water or food sources. Leptospirosis bacteria, which can be deadly to pets, is spread by your pet drinking from a contaminated water source. Bartonella bacteria causes Cat Scratch Fever in people who are scratched or bitten by an infected cat or dog. Pets who are not on flea control are most likely to be infected with bartonella bacteria. 
  • Fungi —Dermatophytosis, or ringworm, is the most common fungal zoonotic disease spread between pets and people. Ringworm affects the skin of people and animals, and can be spread by direct contact, or contact with infected surfaces.
  • Viruses —Rabies is a deadly viral zoonotic disease that is primarily spread by contact with an infected animal’s saliva, and can affect any mammal. No effective treatment is available after signs develop. Read more about rabies infection and the importance of rabies vaccinations here
  • Intestinal parasites — Roundworms, tapeworms, giardia, and toxoplasma parasites are spread through contact with an infected pet’s feces. Hookworms are transmitted through direct contact so use caution when walking barefoot near your pet’s elimination areas.
  • External parasites — Mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks may transmit zoonotic diseases including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, or plague, between people and pets.

Zoonotic disease signs in pets

In some cases, pets who are infected with a zoonotic agent, like toxoplasma, may not show any disease signs, but can still spread an infection to other pets or people. Zoonotic disease signs and severity are variable, and depend on the infection type and the strength of your pet’s immune system. Signs may include:

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Inappetence
  • Skin inflammation or scaling skin
  • Behavior changes
  • Difficulty walking
  • Abdominal pain

Diagnosis and treatment for your pet’s zoonotic disease

Your pet needs immediate veterinary care if they show illness signs, especially after exposure to wildlife, standing water, or an unvaccinated pet. Ensure you provide your veterinarian with your pet’s vaccination and preventive care history. They will perform a thorough physical examination and may recommend several blood, urine, and fecal tests to determine if a zoonotic disease is causing your pet’s illness. Advanced imaging such as X-rays or ultrasound may also be recommended to rule out other underlying illnesses. Pets who are diagnosed with intestinal parasites will require several deworming medication doses. However, pets with more serious zoonotic diseases may require hospitalization for stabilization and treatment which may include:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluid therapy 
  • IV antibiotics
  • Antifungal medication
  • Pain medication
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Gastrointestinal protectants
  • Liver support medication

Financial options for your pet’s zoonotic disease treatment

Pets undergoing zoonotic treatment may require an extended hospital stay and several checkups which can be expensive. However, purchasing a pet health insurance plan like Trupanion when your pet is young will ensure funds are available for your pet’s emergency care. Trupanion can pay your veterinary clinic directly which eliminates the need to submit paperwork and wait for reimbursements. Other financial options for covering treatment costs include Care Credit, Scratch Pay, a pet health savings account, and short-term loans. 

Zoonotic disease prevention in pets

Good hygiene practices such as handwashing and regular visits with your family veterinarian are the best prevention against zoonotic diseases in your pet. Additionally, rabies and leptospirosis vaccinations will ensure your pet is protected against two deadly diseases. Other preventive methods include:

  • Ensuring your pet’s vaccinations are current 
  • Giving your pet year-round veterinary-recommended flea and parasite preventives
  • Bringing your pet for immediate veterinary care after any potential disease exposure or if they are showing disease signs
  • Regularly bathing and grooming your pet
  • Regularly cleaning your pet’s food and water bowls and storing them away from human dishes
  • Immediately picking up and properly disposing of your pet’s feces 
  • Wearing gloves when picking up your pet’s feces or when cleaning your cat’s litter box
  • Avoiding contact with wildlife
  • Preventing your pet from drinking or swimming in standing water such as a pond or creek that may be contaminated 
  • Avoiding feeding your pet any raw meats or eggs or unwashed vegetables or fruits

Call your family veterinarian right away if your pet has any zoonotic disease signs or a known exposure. If your pet ever needs help after hours, contact Animal Emergency Care. #AECprevents

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/basics/zoonotic-diseases.html

https://www.dshs.state.tx.us/IDCU/health/Tick-Borne-Diseases.aspx

https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/petcare/zoonotic-diseases-and-pets-faq

https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_multi_leptospirosis

https://www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/pmahaney/2012/apr/keeping_pets_friendly_disease_free-14631