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5 Illnesses You Can Give Your Dog (and Three You Can’t)

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Can You Make Your Dog Sick?

by David F. Kramer


Some of the best things about pet ownership is sharing. We share our love and affection, prime real estate on the bed or couch, and even our meals. Unfortunately, another thing we share with our pets can be unwanted visitors in the form of germs and infection.


Animals can pass a multitude of diseases to humans in a process called zoonosis. In recent years, the advance of swine flu, bird flu and other animal-borne diseases have displayed just how serious this can be. Such diseases have shown a remarkable adaptation and resistance to modern antibiotics and medicine, and have certainly thrown mankind for a loop. Outbreaks of new and unique strains of these diseases have caused many low-level epidemics and, left unchecked, have the potential to cause devastating consequences.


What’s lesser known, and even lesser studied, is the prospect of anthropozoonosis, which partly involves the passing of disease from humans to animals. While far less prevalent, we can indeed make our dogs sick. Here are some disease you can give your dog, and a few you can’t.


This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM. 


Mumps, or parotitis, is a highly contagious disease caused by the mumps virus. Physical symptoms of the disease include lethargy, muscle pain, and fever, and are followed by a painful swelling of the parotid glands, located on the sides of the face. While often associated with children, mumps can strike at any age, and once an infection occurs, can pass quickly though a household or community. While both preventable through modern immunization and treatable (though not curable), mumps can cause serious complications, such as meningitis, inflammation of the brain, pancreas, testicles and ovaries, and hearing loss.


Though rare, dogs can develop the virus from exposure to an infected person. Symptoms include fever, lack of appetite, and a swelling of the salivary glands below the ears. After palpating your dog’s salivary glands, your vet will most likely order blood tests to rule out other conditions that also cause the salivary glands to swell. He or she may also aspirate a sample of the infected glandular fluid by use of a small needle so that it can be analyzed.


With treatment, a dog should recover from a mumps infection in five to ten days. While no specific treatment is followed, your vet will combat the symptoms of the disease, such as fever and dehydration, to ensure that they do not become too serious. While again, the risk of human to dog infection from mumps is rare, it is obviously best to keep your pets from any infected family members.


Ringworm, or dermatophytosis, is a fungal infection of the skin that affects humans as well as animals. Despite its name, ringworm is not caused by any type of parasite or worm. The symptoms of ringworm are an itchy, round rash. Humans, especially teenagers and children, can spread this infection to one another through wrestling and other vigorous play or through the sweat glands.


“We treat that topically with an antifungal, and treat it systemically with an antifungal suspension or oral pill. We also use shampoos or dips to minimize the spores to avoid further infection,” says Dr. Adam Denish of Rhawnhurst Animal Hospital in Pennsylvania. “As vets, our main responsibility is mostly to make sure that animal diseases don’t get passed to people. We may educate owners about human diseases and make sure that if they have them, they can’t be passed to their animals.”


While salmonella is more associated with food poisoning, it can also be passed to humans through contact with reptiles and other exotic animals. Certain strains of salmonella can cause typhoid and paratyphoid fevers. In both humans and dogs, salmonella can cause nausea, vomiting, fever, headaches, and abdominal cramps. Young children and the elderly are more at risk for complications from symptoms such as dehydration.


Avoiding passing salmonella to your dog is simply a matter of taking appropriate cautions. For example, if your dog is prone to drinking from the toilet, then it’s certainly prudent to keep him or her from this activity while an infected person might be using it. Also, if the disease is food-borne, keep infected foods away from dogs, and even out of the trash if they’re prone to going through it. Salmonellosis is easily treated by your veterinarian.


Giardia infection, or giardiasis, is known to be one of the most common causes of waterborne infections in the U.S.


According to Dr. Denish, “Giardia is a protozoa that appears in puppies, and can be seen in cats and even in exotic animals. It is spread through contact with feces and contaminated water. Symptoms include diarrhea and weight loss; we see it in a lot of pet store and breeder dogs coming from the south with hotter weather conditions.”


A person can get giardia from a dog, or even by doing garden work outside through exposure to wild rodents, and this disease can be passed from human to dogs; though again, a dog is far more likely to get this disease from another animal, especially in a pet store or puppy mill setting where many animals are kept in close quarters. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the most common mode of giardia transmission is water, which can include drinking water, well water, lake and stream water, and swimming pool and spa water.


The main symptom of giardia in dogs is diarrhea. Your vet can confirm this diagnosis through fecal analysis. Once properly diagnosed, this condition is very treatable with the use of fenbendazole.

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)

MRSA is caused by bacteria that are responsible for many difficult to treat infections in humans, and is especially prevalent in a health care setting where a patient’s immune system may already be compromised by other illnesses, as well as among the presence of open wounds. This risk is not limited to patients, however, as medical staff and hospital workers may also act as carriers. The disease manifests in the nasal membranes, respiratory, and urinary tracts.


As for the treatment of MRSA, according to Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM, “Basically MRSA treatment is dependent on culture and sensitivity. A culture is taken by the human physician and many antibiotics are tested against this pathogen to see which resolves the infection best. Once determined, the patient is then put on this antibiotic usually for upwards of 6-8 weeks and then recultured after finishing the antibiotics to ensure the MRSA has cleared.”


According to Dr. Denish, pet owners who work in a health care setting have a very low chance of passing this infection do their dogs and would most likely need to be actively infected to pose a risk to their animals. “You would need to have a wound that was infected,” says Dr. Denish. “If you had MRSA and your dog didn’t, and you were treating an open wound on your dog, you could potentially pass it on.”

Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease, or Lyme borreliosis, is an infectious disease spread through the bite from an infected tick of the Ixodes variety and is the most common tick-borne disease. The initial symptoms include a growing patch of redness on the skin, lethargy, and fever, though 20-25% of those affected will not develop a rash. A diagnosis can be confirmed through blood tests to detect the necessary antibodies, but these are not always reliable and can also have false positive results


If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to very serious complications, including partial facial paralysis, joint pain, severe headaches, memory loss, and even heart palpitations. Even with medical treatment, those affected with Lyme disease may experience these debilitating symptoms for six months or more. The treatment for both humans and dogs include the antibiotic Doxycycline, which is also prescribed to treat other illnesses spread by ticks.


Lyme disease can also be serious in dogs, and can lead to swollen lymph nodes, fever, lack of appetite, kidney issues, and potential lameness due to inflammation of the joints. As with humans, there is always the possibility that several courses of antibiotics and medication may be needed, and that the disease may return.


Luckily for both pets and their owners, the tick itself is the conduit for Lyme disease, it can’t be passed from person to person or from person to dog. However, both humans and dogs being treated for Lyme disease are best to steer clear of areas where ticks might be present.

The Common Cold and the Flu

While humans and animals are both capable of catching the common cold, as well as a multitude of similar bugs, the good news is that these conditions are both different and don’t cross from human to animal. Colds in both dogs and people can certainly be serious, and it’s best to see your doctor (or vet) for treatment. When it comes to prevention, a healthy dose of vitamin C can boost your dog’s immune system, as well as your own.


As far as transmission, the same can’t necessarily be said for the flu. While most of the medical community believes that the flu cannot be passed from human to animal, recent studies have shown that the adaptable nature of the flu may very well mean that some strains can indeed be passed from humans to other animals, including dogs. While some pet owners might swear that their dog comes down with the sniffles shortly after they do, this is most likely their imagination or coincidence.


The good news is that while your family might keep their distance from you while you’re suffering with the latest cold or flu bug, you can always curl up with your dog for comfort and emotional support—and the same goes for when your dog is feeling under the weather.

What You Can Do to Stay Healthy

Keeping your pets safe from illnesses is no different than keeping yourself and your family healthy.


“You should always practice cleanliness when it comes to your pet,” says Dr. Denish. “Be educated, and don’t strictly rely on the internet for information. Talk with your physician as well as your veterinarian whenever you’re sick for the potential risks to others in your family, as well as your pets.”


The risk for infection both from owners to their pets, as well as vice versa, is always increased for humans and animals with compromised immune systems. For pet owners afflicted with immune disorders caused by AIDS, chemotherapy, steroid use, and diabetes—as well as dogs with compromised immune systems from illness or hereditary conditions—every care needs to be taken to avoid cross-infection. Developing a good rapport with both your veterinarian and your family doctor will go to great lengths to keep both the health of your pets and your own in check.

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