Although cats and dogs can’t pass every disease or condition they might get onto people, pets can spread certain illnesses. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to shoo Fluffy and Fido out of the house or quarantine them to a room, just practice preventive measures.
Roundworm and Hookworm
Roundworm and hookworm are parasites, which can spread from dogs or cats to people who touch infected feces. It’s more likely for kittens and puppies to have worms than adult cats and dogs. Roundworm symptoms include coughing, nausea, weight loss and fatigue. Hookworm can cause skin infections, abdominal discomfort, bloody stool and nausea. Deworming your cat and dog prevents you from getting worms from them.
Pregnant women need to be especially careful to avoid toxoplasmosis, a disease that can cause birth defects. It’s spread through cat feces. If you’re pregnant and have a cat, get someone else to change the litter box — take advantage of getting out of this chore — or if you need to do it, wear gloves, and wash your hands afterwards. Don’t allow kitty to walk on your kitchen counter or dining table where you prepare or eat food. Kitty walks on these surfaces after walking in her litter box, after all.
Ringworm isn’t really a worm; this fungal infection can be spread from dogs and cats to people through touch. It’s highly contagious and causes a ring-shaped rash on the skin. It can cause baldness if it’s on the scalp and thick and discolored nails if it winds up there. Antifungal treatment gets rid of ringworm in you and your pet.
You don’t get Lyme disease directly from your pet; you get it from a tick that your pet could bring in from outdoors. Lyme disease can become a chronic condition that could cause nerve and heart inflammation. Ask your veterinarian for a tick preventive. It’s more likely for your pet to get a tick in the warmer months.
Cat Scratch Disease
Cats can get the bacterial disease bartonellosis, commonly called cat scratch disease, from fleabites. The disease transfers to people if they are bitten or scratched by an infected cat. Cat scratch disease causes flulike symptoms and can damage the heart’s valves. If you control fleas on your cat, you can prevent getting cat scratch disease. Avoid games where your cat is likely to scratch you. If you insist on scratching kitty’s belly as if she were a dog, you’re asking for it. Wash the scratched area immediately, and if you develop an infection where you were scratched, see your doctor.
Rabies, a virus that affects the nervous system and can be fatal, is spread through a bite. Although rabies can pass from dogs or cats to humans, it’s more likely spread from wild animals. Prevent rabies by getting your pet regularly vaccinated and keeping him away from wild animals.
Don’t let your pooch plant a wet one on your face. You don’t really know where his mouth has been. He may have just eaten a discarded sandwich on a walk while you weren't looking. He just spread germs to you by licking your mouth. Wipe down countertops and tables before eating or preparing food. Just because you didn’t see kitty on them doesn’t mean she wasn’t there. Always wash your hands after playing with your cat or dog, especially before you eat.
Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.