The week before last, we talked a bit about some of the diseases that people can get from pets or from other animals. Fortunately, most of these diseases are easily preventable. So let’s talk this week about how to protect yourself and your family from zoonotic diseases (i.e., diseases that can be passed from animals to people.)


  • Keep your pets up-to-date on their vaccinations. In particular, make sure your pet is protected against rabies. Discuss vaccination schedules and protocols with your veterinarian.
  • Keep your pets free of parasites such as fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites. Your veterinarian can help you choose parasite control products that are safe and effective.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often with warm water and soap.
  • Teach your children to wash their hands properly also.
  • Always wash your hands before handling food, before preparing food, and before eating.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Use different cutting boards for raw foods and for fresh produce to reduce the potential for cross-contamination. Wash cutting boards thoroughly after use.
  • Cook all meats thoroughly before eating.
  • Wear gloves and/or wash hands thoroughly after gardening or otherwise working in soil.
  • Make sure children’s sandboxes are covered when not in use. This prevents neighborhood cats using the sandbox as their litter box.
  • Pick up dog feces as soon as possible and dispose of it properly.
  • Never use feces from dogs or cats as fertilizer in your garden or lawn.
  • Do not compost dog or cat feces.
  • Never discard of dog or cat feces near areas where your family gathers or your children play.
  • Wear gloves when cleaning or scooping your cat’s litter box or picking up your dog’s feces. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling.
  • If pregnant, consider having someone else in the household take care of litter box chores. Clean feces from the litter box daily. (Toxoplasmosis oocysts, or eggs, take at least 24 hours to become infectious.)
  • Eliminate hunting behavior in cats by keeping cats indoors.
  • Do not feed your pets raw diets or undercooked meats. (If you do elect to feed your pet a raw diet, at least be aware of the potential for disease transmission and be especially vigilant.)
  • Wash your hands after handling any pet food or treat. Even commercial diets can occasionally be contaminated with things like Salmonella and can pose a threat.
  • Use designated feeding dishes, water bowls, and other utensils for preparing your pets food and for feeding. Do not allow your pets to eat or drink from dishes, cups or other utensils used for your own food.
  • Be cautious about drinking water from potentially contaminated sources such as rivers, lakes, and streams. If it is necessary to ingest water from these sources, boil it before drinking. This is particularly of concern for hikers, campers, and those enjoying other outdoor activities.
  • Do not approach or attempt to handle animals that are unknown to you, whether domestic or wild. Teach your children not to approach strange animals also.
  • Keep garbage in closed trash containers to prevent foraging by skunks, raccoons, and other wild animals.
  • Do not feed wild animals or stray animals near your home or near where your children play.


As you can see, many of these suggestions involve good hygiene practices and responsible pet ownership, as well as a little bit of common sense. There’s no good reason to get rid of your pet for fear of getting ill.


Dr. Lorie Huston



Image: A May's morning by Peter Houghton / Flickr