By Karen Geissert, D.V.M.
Q: I have both a dog and a cat. Are there any diseases that either of my pets could pass to me or other family members?
A: Yes, there are several infectious diseases that could be zoonotic, which means they are transferred from an animal to a human. The most serious viral infectious disease is Rabies. A bite to your pet from an infected wild animal or an unvaccinated pet could infect your pet who could then infect a person through a bite or saliva exposure. Cats and dogs should stay current on Rabies vaccination. Any pet with a history of a bite wound from another animal should be closely monitored for possible signs of Rabies and should be under the care of a veterinarian.
Another serious infectious disease is Leptospirosis. In recent years, this bacterial disease has been identified as more prevalent in our New England area and much of the United States. Since many mammals are susceptible to this disease, infection can be passed through puddles, ponds, bogs and contaminated soil. Wild mammals can pass the organism into water through urination or defecation that may infect a dog or cat when they are drinking at or wading through these infected outdoor sites. The infection is rare in cats. Infected dogs can have a range of the illness from being infected and not showing any symptoms to serious illness leading to death. Humans can be exposed swimming in contaminated water bodies or through exposure to sickened pets. Dogs can receive a vaccine that protects them from four varieties of Leptospirosis.
Cats and dogs can also become infected with Bartonella commonly transmitted by flea bites. A scratch from an infected cat can cause an infection called cat scratch fever in a person. While dogs can also carry some varieties of the Bartonella organism, most cases in people have been passed from cat scratches.
Only a few strains of influenza have been implicated as possibly passed from dogs or cats to humans. Flu symptoms could include respiratory disease, fever, conjunctivitis, decreased appetite and lethargy. A newer canine influenza vaccine can protect dogs from certain virulent strains of influenza transmitted from dog to dog. Humans can receive an annual flu vaccine to protect them from the most likely circulating strains of influenza each year.
Anytime a pet is ill and is presented for medical care by your veterinarian, possible infectious diseases must be considered, especially if there is any concurrent human illness in the same household. If your pet is suspected of being infected with a zoonotic disease, your veterinarian can help you limit any exposure by instructing family members to take certain precautions in your home or in handling your pet. Also in treating your pet for the disease or by providing vaccine boosters to prevent infection after possible exposure, your veterinarian is helping you and your family members to stay healthy.
Karen Geissert, owner of Acton Animal Hospital, has practiced veterinary medicine for over 30 years. Questions for her may be submitted to ActonAnimalHospital@comcast.net.