Diseases from Pets to People

Dog Walker Walking Many DogsI am proud to finally present Introductory Animal Safety.

This document is a labor of love, created over the past 8 months originally as a resource to help keep pet sitters safe.

You may remember my post in February, The Complicated Contracts of Dog Walkers, where I said I wanted to create training resources for new pet sitters to help them stay safe on the job.

Two excellent pet sitters, Chris Wooten of One of a Kind K9 and Kim Fields at Everything and the Dog generously gave of their time to make sure this document would be helpful to new pet sitters in their field.

I would also like to thank Lili ChinDr. Karen Overall, and Elsevier Publishing for making the animal behavior images in the document available for non-profit use.

Since I could not find any similar documents available through the two major pet sitting organizations I will also be sending this handout along to them in the hopes they can use it for their members.

Since this safety information is helpful for all pet lovers I will present it here too. It will be split into at least 3 posts. This first section focuses on how to avoid catching animal diseases:

Zoonotic Diseases

The keys to avoiding animal diseases are:

  1. Using good hygiene
  2. Recognizing risky animals
  3. Knowing if your immune system is suppressed
  4. Knowing what diseases you can get from pets

Good Hygiene

Beagle TongueMost people catch diseases from animals by touching a pet’s skin or feces (poop). Saliva (spit) also spreads disease since animals clean themselves with their mouths. Contrary to popular belief, dog and cat mouths are not cleaner than ours.

Rarely, infections spread by contact with animal blood or through the air.  One type of bacteria can spread through dogs’ urine.

People unconsciously touch their faces all day, increasing their risk of disease. During a pet visit, be aware of your hands and try to avoid touching your face and mouth.
Wash your hands after handling feces and before and after each play session. Good hand washing requires:
  1. Using soap and running water
  2. Lathering for at least 20 seconds (time yourself by singing the “happy birthday song” twice),
  3. Washing all surfaces of your hands including the backs and between your fingers.
  4. Drying with a clean towel.

Hand sanitizers do not penetrate through dirt and do not kill every kind of germ. Hand washing is a better way to clean because it physically removes germs from your hands. Antibacterial soap does not make your hands significantly cleaner than regular soap.

LotionSince frequent hand washing dries out your hands and dry skin is prone to infection, moisturize frequently.

Cover open wounds while handling animals. Afterward, wash them well and apply an antiseptic.

Take your pet to the veterinarian if they seem sick.

Recognizing Risky Animals

Minimize your exposure to high-risk animals and wash your hands every time you touch them, not just before and after play-time.

Because they carry more zoonotic diseases, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) encourages caution when handling these animals:

  1. Puppies and kittens less than 6 months of age
  2. Animals with diarrhea
  3. Reptiles
  4. Baby Chicks and Ducks

I would add:

  1. Pets with intense itching, crusty skin, or hair loss.
  2. Pets on raw food diets

Pets with skin problems might have ringworm, mange, fleas, or bacterial infections that can harm you.

Pets on raw food diets can expose you to Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria through their saliva or feces. Even a pet without diarrhea can still shed these bacteria.


Research your pet’s food to see if it is a raw or uncooked meat diet. Frozen raw food diets have the same risks because bacteria can survive freezing. Some commercial diets with fancy packaging are raw foods. Some companies coat regular kibble in raw juices, some just dehydrate or freeze dry raw food. All are risky.  Know your exposure.

Here is a scientific study on the benefits and dangers of raw pet food:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3003575/

Recognizing if You Have a Suppressed Immune System

Many people have suppressed immune systems including children, pregnant women, people with certain diseases, and people on certain drugs.

Learn more about who is immune compromised and how to protect yourself here:http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/extra_risk.htm

Knowing What Diseases You Can Get From Pets

The CDC and Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) describe the diseases you can get from pets.

CDC – http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/browse_by_animal.htm

CAPC – http://www.pestandparasites.org

Common Dog-Borne Diseases

  1. Intestinal Parasites
    1. Roundworms
    2. Hookworms
    3. Giardia
  2. Skin Diseases
    1. Ringworm
    2. Mange
    3. Fleas
    4. Antibiotic resistant bacterial infections
  3. Urinary Infections
    1. Leptospirosis

Common Cat-Borne Diseases

  1. Intestinal Parasites
    1. Roundworms
    2. Hookworms
    3. Giardia
    4. Toxoplasmosis
  2. Skin Diseases
    1. Ringworm
    2. Mange
    3. Fleas
    4. Antibiotic resistant bacterial infections
  3. Cat Scratch Fever

The CDC lists zoonotic diseases from other species too: http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/browse_by_animal.htm

Next post will focus on identifying signs of fear and agression in pets. See Animal Safety Pt 2.
—–If you think you may have contracted a disease from an animal, please contact a human medical professional right away.Please remember that this blog is not a substitute for real-life veterinary advice. Your vet knows you and your pet best and you should talk with them before starting any course of treatment. Seeing, touching, and smelling your pet is essential to making a good treatment plan, none of which I can do from my blog (sorry).More than anything, I hope these topics will encourage you to take your concerns to your veterinarian and help your pet feel better sooner.

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