Receive Email From GPHC

I Caught It from My Pet

How To Avoid Zoonotic Diseases

Our pets. We love them and they love us, but sometimes they can share more than love. From the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “infectious diseases often and easily are spread from animals to people.” These are called zoonotic diseases.

Now, before you give the hairy eyeball to your pet, know that most infections are preventable and/or treatable. So, a fear of disease should not stop someone from having a pet or pets. And, remember all the great benefits we receive from our pets, including lower blood pressure, decreased stress and help with depression and loneliness.

So how do we catch something from our pet or another animal? There are four routes of infection:

Direct contact: Body fluids such as saliva, blood, urine, feces, etc. can transmit disease by direct handling of an infected animal by petting, touching or bites and scratches.

Indirect contact: Occurs when we come into contact with areas where animals live or roam. This can include aquarium tank water; pet food and water bowls; pet habitats indoors or outdoors such as chicken coops; plants, water sources or soil.

Vector-borne: Transmission of disease by the bite of an insect like a flea, tick or mosquito.

Foodborne: Consumption of contaminated food affects one of every six Americans. This can include unpasteurized milk, undercooked meat, unwashed raw fruits and vegetables.

Among feline zoonotic diseases, Toxoplasma gondii is often mentioned as a potential risk for miscarriage, but there is more than one route of infection. Pregnant women should not handle litter boxes while pregnant to avoid contact with cat feces. But the most common route of infection in people is not from cat to human, but from undercooked meat, shellfish and unpasteurized goat’s milk.

Much zoonotic disease is prevented simply by good hygiene:

1. Don’t directly handle your pet’s stool or urine. Use disposable gloves when cleaning the litter box or an aquarium. Use poop bags or a scoop to deal with dog waste.

2. Keep the environment clean – pick up after dog on walks, at the dog park and other locations. Keep your cat indoors. Cover sandboxes after use to prevent their use as an outdoor litter box.

3. Always wash your hands after handling your pet, their food or bedding. Regularly launder pet beds and blankets. Teach children the same and also not to put their mouths on any part of an animal’s body.

4. With classroom pets, make sure that students are washing their hands before and after handling the pet and their habitat or cage, especially reptiles.

5. At animal events such as the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo – as well as petting zoos, barns, farms and other animal sites – carry hand-sanitizer and clean hands between animals and again after done visiting.

6. Avoid contact with stray and wild animals for yourself and your pets.

Lastly, from the American Veterinary Medical Association, “healthy pets are less likely to carry diseases that can infect you. Taking your pet to the veterinarian for regular check-ups, vaccinations and deworming is a simple way to keep them healthy.”

Dr. Margot Vahrenwald is the owner of Park Hill Veterinary Medical Center at 2255 Oneida St. For more information, visit

Support GPHC & Our Programs

Every dollar counts! Gifts of any size support our programs serving neighbors in Greater Park Hill. From our food pantry to our sustainability initiatives, we couldn't do it without you.