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10 Scary Diseases Your Pet May Be Exposing You To

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No Creepy Crawlers Allowed

Your pet is a wonderful companion, an excellent listener and possibly even your favorite family member. Unfortunately, if not properly cared for, he or she can also be a carrier of a whole host of diseases that can be transmitted to you. Some of these zoonotic diseases, as they are technically referred to, can even be deadly. We sat down with Dr. Anna M. van Heeckeren to discuss some of the scariest diseases your dog or cat may be exposing you to, as well as a few easy ways to prevent disease transmission in the first place.

1. Tapeworm

This parasite can be transmitted from accidentally ingesting a flea from your dog or cat. Symptoms of flea tapeworm infection include stomach aches, diarrhea, and an itchy butt.

2. Ringworm

Often confused with another zoonotic disease called roundworm, ringworm is a fungus that is fairly common in dogs and cats. It is often found in shelters and can be passed to people who pet an infected animal. It usually leaves people with an uncomfortable skin rash.

3. Roundworm

This parasite is found in almost every puppy and kitten. It is usually transmitted by their mother before they're born, or from drinking their mother's milk. The puppies and kittens then spread it through their poop. People can accidentally ingest roundworms if they handle dirt (or poop) containing nasty roundworm eggs and forget to wash their hands (or don't wash thoroughly) before eating. Fortunately, most people don’t get horrible symptoms, but for those that do, symptoms can include stomach problems, vision problems, and seizures. It can also lead to death, but it is rare.

4. Hookworm

Like roundworms, the hookworm is another parasite that can be spread through animal poop. It infects people through direct skin contact, like when walking outside in bare feet on contaminated dirt or sand. Because hookworms feed on blood in the intestinal tract, symptoms can range from gastrointestinal discomfort to blood loss leading to anemia and protein loss. In severe untreated cases, hookworm infection can result in stunted growth and cognitive dysfunction in children and in the developing feoteuses of pregnant women. In rare instances, hookworm infections can lead to death due to anemia and malnutrition.

5. Cat Scratch Disease

So called because the disease spreads when a cat that is infected with the bacterium Bartonella henselae bites or scratches a person hard enough to break the surface of the skin, or licks a person's open wound. According to the CDC, cats can get infected with B. henselae from flea bites and flea dirt (droppings) getting into their wounds. By scratching and biting at the fleas, cats pick up the infected flea dirt under their nails and between their teeth. For people, there's usually a mild infection associated with cat scratch fever where the injury occurs, but it can also cause swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, and a poor appetite. The full impact of Bartonella infections in people is just beginning to be explored.

6. Leptospira

Leptospira bacteria can be found in the urine of dogs. People can develop many symptoms similar to that of a cold (fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea), after which they feel better and then get sick again with severe kidney or liver disease, or infection of the brain (Weil’s disease). People can die from severe cases of leptospirosis.

7. Toxoplasma

This bacteria is commonly spoken about when discussing cat litter and pregnant women. As pertaining to people, it can be contracted when handling contaminated feces from an infected cat. However, the Toxoplasma gondii bacteria can also be found "naturally" elsewhere, such as in undercooked meats or vegetables that have not been thoroughly washed. Symptoms can include swollen glands and muscle aches as if you have the "flu." Pregnant women should be especially careful because the bacteria can infect the developing baby and cause deformity or miscarriage. It is for this reason that doctors advise pregnant women not to clean cat litter boxes.

8. Plague

While you may think this is no longer a real fear, the plague is still around in some parts of the world — possibly even your backyard. It is caused by a bacterium (Yersinia pestis) that infects fleas, which commonly attach themselves to dogs and cats and are then brought indoors. If bitten by the infected flea, you, in turn, can also become infected. If left untreated, this can lead to death.

9. Rabies

Rabies is a fairly well known virus that is transmitted through the exchange of blood or saliva (typically, a bite) from an infected animal. People with rabies can display signs such as fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting. If left treated, it can even become fatal. Thankfully, it is no longer common in dogs or cats because of successful rabies vaccination programs.

10. Lyme Disease

Lyme disease, so called because it was originally discovered in Old Lyme, CT, is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the world. It is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is frequently brought indoors by our pets, unbeknownst to them. Clinical signs of Lyme disease include red, expanding rash, fatigue, chills, fever, joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. If left untreated, it can lead to facial palsy, heart palpitations, and even meningitis. 

Prevention Tips

Just because our pets can be carriers of diseases doesn't mean we need to give them up. In fact, you are probably more likely to contract something from your friends and family than from your pet. However, it is still important that you and your family take precautions and care for your pet accordingly. Dr. Heeckeren recommends three simple rules: 1)Visit your veterinarian regularly to get necessary vaccinations and medications for your pet, including flea and tick preventives; 2)Pick up pet poop daily using gloves, seal it in a bag, and throw it in outdoor trash bin; and 3)Wash hands frequently and throughly, especially before mealtimes or after handling dog or cat feces.

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  • Slideshow isn't working
    12/09/2014 02:56pm

    Slideshow doesn't work. 2 places to click to advance, neither one works. The thumbnail pictures are worthless without some text to describe/explain them.

  • 01/15/2015 06:54pm

    I am having the same problem

  • 01/16/2015 02:11am

    I've recently updated everything, plugins, Java, Flash Player and everything else that's been suggested and these slideshows still don't work for me. I think I was running XP when I posted the first time about this problem, I'm running Windows 7 now and still no luck with the slideshow. Oh well, most Yahoo! videos don't play for me either.

  • & Campylobacter?
    12/09/2014 03:19pm

    My dog had a wicked campylobacter infection after eating a squirrel. His vet warned my family to be very careful as it too is a zoonotic disease.

  • Cat Bite
    12/09/2014 05:19pm

    A bite on the hand from a feral cat can put you in the hospital within hours. I was lucky, but in sad shape for a few days.

  • Indoors is BEST!
    12/09/2014 09:25pm

    The very BEST way to keep from becoming infected with these nasties is to not let your dog or cat outdoors. Period. Agreed that it's harder, but not impossible even for dogs, thanks to wee-wee pads. But very, very possible for cats, and after a brief period of adjustment, so do the cats. They watch "Kitty TV" at every window and glass door have never felt grass under their litle pads in the 5-16 years they've lived with me. :-) Our local animal shelter even requires adoptive parents sign a legal contract that they won't allow their animals outdoors, which I think is great!

  • 01/15/2015 02:52pm

    I could not agree more with keeping cats strictly indoors. Our organization, ARA Project Save-A-Cat, also asks for a signature on a contract to keep cats indoors and to never declaw, among other things. Some of our rescued cats have absolutely no desire to go outside, others love it. The idea that outdoor cats cannot transition into indoor cats is absurd - all of our rescues have been feral, semi-feral, or abandoned (having partially reverted). Anyone who says that they can't keep their cat inside should be asked "who controls the door" and "would you allow a 3-yr. old to play in the middle of the street just because he/she wanted to?" We also provide information about safe outdoor enclosures, of which we use several for our rescues (prefabricated kits or built by carpenters or handy owners). Not only are cats safe and happy, live a longer and healthier lives, but vet bills are cut down considerably!

  • 01/17/2015 12:33am

    I'm 115% positive that the contract is for keeping cats indoors unless strictly supervised. Not letting a dog or bitch go outside- I understand piddle pads for when you simply cannot make it home on time- ever is sick and cruel, cruel, cruel. There is also no harm walking your cat if you have the patience to train it to be accustomed to the harness. I will agree that indoor cats can live happy lives- I have one. I had another, but it was eaten by a coyote (yeah, I understand that it doesn't make sense to you that I had a strictly indoor cat that got eaten.) but a dog/bitch is a totally different story. I really really really hope that you never get a canine companion, or if you do that you have great friend that will report you to have it taken away or to take it outside at least once a day (bare minimum, if you ask me). Some canines can be trained to litter boxes, and that sounds like a great idea to me, but not taking them on a walk is unjustifiable. Sorry, but someone had to call you out before a viewer saw it and thought "Whoah! I can get myself a dog and NOT HAVE TO TAKE IT OUTSIDE EVERYDAY?!?!?! Sign me up!"

  • Taxoplasma - too hyped!
    01/15/2015 02:38pm

    I have been operating a cat rescue organization for over 24 years, and have had many inquiries about taxoplasmosis, especially from pregnant adopters. The write-up here didn't mention the fact that cats are not the only source (see 2 URLs below) and that most people are already immune to it; in fact, most gardeners are!
    http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/faqs.html - good general info
    http://www.vet.cornell.edu/FHC/health_resources/toxoplasmosis.cfm - excerpt from this one:
    "Because cats only shed the organism for a few days in their entire life, the chance of human exposure is small. Owning a cat does not mean you will be infected with the disease. It is unlikely that you would be exposed to the parasite by touching an infected cat, because cats usually do not carry the parasite on their fur. It is also unlikely that you can become infected through cat bites or scratches. In addition, cats kept indoors that do not hunt prey or are not fed raw meat are not likely to be infected with T. gondii.
    In the United States, people are much more likely to become infected through eating raw meat and unwashed fruits and vegetables than from handling cat feces."

  • Slideshow does not work!!
    01/15/2015 05:01pm

    The slideshow doesn't work!!!

  • Not Working
    01/15/2015 06:19pm

    UGH!! Slideshow not working!!

  • Page Issues
    01/15/2015 09:47pm

    To everyone who has been having problems with the pages opening, we have been looking into the issue. We had it checked by our site management team and we have not yet been able to find a problem. On our own computers and browsers - we've tried both in office and at home - the images are opening without trouble.

    There are a few settings on computers and in browser settings that can block images. We sent out some e-mails today to request specific browser information from the users who brought this problem to our attention. We can use that information to have our team look at the issues from that point of view and send some tips based on which browser is being used.

    It may be as simple as updating your browser and and other tools to their new versions - this can be especially true with the "flash" image programs. Try the "help" sections of your browser's home site, where you may find the answer that will solve the problem. (one of the search questions to start with is "why can't i see images")

    Chrome: https://support.google.com/chrome/?hl=en#topic=3227046

    Firefox: https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/products/firefox

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  • 01/19/2015 05:22am

    i'm having the same prob. but only with the opening story. all the others work fine.

  • Next buttons don't work
    01/16/2015 04:02pm

    Can't view this slideshow -- none of the forward buttons take you anywhere.

  • Diseases I Can Catch!
    11/19/2016 08:59pm

    Thank you so much for being so informative! I found this site when I Googled sleeping with your dog diseases!
    It's comforting to know the shot I pay for when I take my dog in for her yearly updates is worth the money. My Vet asked if Abby now sleeps with me or has she ever slept with me & the answer is yes. I love my girl but I do not want to die from letting her sleep with me unless she has had the shot that prevents me from getting sick! Thank you for creating this website! The slide show worked just fine for me! I was using Google when I found you! Blessings, Love & Hugs!
    Rev. Linda H White