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Are You at Risk for Zoonotic Diseases?

August 15, 2017


If you grew up on a working farm or ranch, you may be familiar with the terminology. Zoonotic diseases are fungal, bacterial, viral or parasitic infections that can be spread between animals and humans. When people contact a zoonotic disease, their symptoms can range from very ill (even life threatening) to no apparent symptoms at all. The most common symptoms usually involve diarrhea, fever or muscle aches and pains. If you are a pet lover, you should be aware of how zoonotic diseases are transmitted, which groups of humans are at higher risk of getting an infection and the best practices to avoid an unwanted illness.

In addition to infections acquired from contact with household pets, exotics and wildlife can put you or a family member at risk for a zoonotic disease. With today's animal-friendly approach to suburban development, many forms of wildlife have become quite adept at living in modern-day neighborhoods. Among these are squirrels, raccoons and possums that can carry diseases ranging from salmonella to rabies. Since children and pets tend play outdoors, they can come in direct contact with wildlife urine and feces without noticing the risk. This is the primary reason you should always cover a sandbox or child's backyard pool.

Although pets can be a source of infections, contracting a disease from a healthy pet is relatively uncommon. In fact, selecting the right pet for your situation and providing good veterinary care will provide an added layer of safety. Adult dogs and cats tend to be lower risk, whereas exotics like reptiles, amphibians, rodents, chicks, hedgehogs and chinchillas are higher risk animals. Households with immunocompromised members should discuss their situation with both their physician and veterinarian. Very young children, adults over the age of 65 and pregnant women top the list of high-risk humans.

It is important to note that responsible pet owners seldom have any problem with contracting a zoonotic disease from the family dog or cat. In fact, there are numerous human health benefits to be gained from owning and loving a pet. Number one on the list of "to dos" is keeping the cat's litter box clean and picking up after your dog (yes, in your yard too). Normal grooming, fresh bedding, routine veterinary care and washing your hands can significantly reduce the risk of contracting a virus, bacteria, parasite or fungus. To learn more about pet-human safety, check out FAQs for Zoonotic Diseases provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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