Zoonotic Diseases - Is your family safe, can you catch a disease from your cat?

What is a zoonotic disease?  Owning a pet can be a wonderful, rewarding experience for you and your family.  However, pets can transmit diseases that may be harmful to humans - especially young children and people with certain medical conditions.  These are called zoonotic diseases or zoonoses (pronounced zoo-NO-sees).

There are two types of zoonotic diseases that concern pet owners:  illnesses that can be transmitted from animals to humans - like Ehrlichiosis - and diseases that infect people and pets like Lyme disease.  It is very important to take precautions to protect both your family and your pet from zoonotic diseases.

Zoonotic diseases that affect people are the following:

Cat scratch disease - Also known as "cat scratch fever," this flea-borne infection is typically transmitted from a cat's scratch or bite.  Signs include pimples at the scratch site and swollen lymph nodes that may persist for weeks or longer.

Ehrlichiosis - Transmitted by ticks, this bacterial disease can cause fever, muscle aches, vomiting and other, more serious symptoms.  Half of all patients require hospitalization.

Giardia - People become infected with giardia when they drink water containing the parasite Giardia Iamblia.  You can also become infected by putting something in your mouth that has come into contact with a pets stool.  Signs of giardia include diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea.

Leptospirosis - Lepto is a bacterial disease spread by contact with urine from an infected animal, including dogs, raccoon, squirrels, skunks.  Lepto can cause high fever, severe headache, vomiting and if left untreated, kidney damage and liver failure.

Lyme Disease - Lyme disease is spread by ticks. Lyme disease can cause arthritis and kidney damage.  The number of Lyme disease cases has nearly tripled since 1990 and the disease is now found in every state.

Rabies - This is a very well-known disease caused by a virus found in the saliva of infected animals and transmitted to people by bites and it’s invariably fatal if not treated promptly.

Ringworm - Ringworm is a fungal infection - not a worm - it is transmitted by contact with the skin or fur of an infected dog or cat.  Signs include bald patches of skin on the scalp or a ring-shaped itchy rash on the skin.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever - Is a very serious tick-borne disease that causes fever, headache and muscle pain, followed by a rash.  This may be fatal if left untreated.

Toxoplasmosis - This is a parasite disease spread by contact with cat feces in soil or litter, although the major route of transmission is contaminated meat.  It can cause serious health problems in pregnant women or in people with compromised immune systems.

There are simple ways to protect your family from zoonotic diseases.  Washing your hands often when touching, playing and caring for pets. Check for ticks on yourself, children and pets. If you find a tick use a tweezer to slowly pull it out.  After removing the tick, immerse it in rubbing alcohol.  Was the tick bite wound and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

If you are pregnant, ask someone else to clean the litter box.  If you must do it yourself, wear gloves and immediately wash your hands after changing the litter.

Wash your hands after gardening or working in the soil where pets may have relieved themselves.

If you are scratched or bitten, was the area with soap and water right away and administer first aid.  If you are concerned, contact your family physician.

See your veterinarian regularly and make sure you and your pet are protected from zoonoses and other threats in your geographical area.  Many zoonotic diseases are prevented by vaccination. Vaccines are now available for leptospirosis, Lyme disease, rabies and giardia.  In addition, twice per year wellness exams can detect and treat zoonotic infections before they become serious, or are transmitted to other pets or people.


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