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Five diseases you could catch from your cat or dog

Diseases you could catch from your cat or dog: Dog and cat cuddling up to each other
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While pondering the possible diseases you could catch from your cat or dog probably isn’t high on your list of priorities when welcoming a new pet into your family, knowing the most common culprits and their signs and symptoms can help ensure everyone in your home stays healthy.

We often think of wild animals as being our main risk when it comes to transmitting and spreading diseases, but the much-loved domestic cat and dog can play host to a long list of viruses and parasites that can easily spread to humans. 

Although most are easily treatable and the more serious ones are rare, it can't hurt to take a look at five diseases you could catch from your cat or dog so that you know what to look out for and how best to prevent them.

1. Toxoplasmosis

Pregnant Woman With Cat Relaxing At Home

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve ever wondered why pregnant women are told to steer well clear of feline furkids, Toxoplasmosis is the reason. This parasite most often affects cats and causes flu-like symptoms in infected humans. While that may not sound like anything to worry about, the infection can pass from an infected mother to her unborn baby through the placenta, causing serious complications.

For those who already own a cat and are trying to get pregnant or are already expecting, rest assured you don’t have to banish your furbaby to a temporary home as there’s plenty of safety precautions you can take to prevent this nasty parasite from popping up. 

Make sure someone else handles litter box duty while you’re pregnant, as coming into contact with feline feces is one of the easiest ways to contract Toxoplasmosis. Wash your hands thoroughly if you do come into contact with any cat waste, and consider keeping your kitty indoors as much as possible to decrease their exposure and reduce the risk of infection.

2. Worms

From ringworm to tapeworm and roundworm to hookworm, cats and dogs have the potential to transfer a whole host of fungal and parasitic illnesses to their pet parents. 

Tapeworm, roundworm, and hookworm, all infect humans in roughly the same way, most commonly entering the body via the mouth when people inadvertently swallow an infected flea. While that may sound both gross and unlikely, fleas are tiny and fast, so it only takes snuggling up with your pet or kissing them for a flea to find a new home.

The good news is, there are some simple steps you can take to prevent these worms from setting up camp in your stomach and intestines. Ensure you regularly use either the best flea treatment for dogs or the best flea treatment for cats to protect your furkid and yourself from those unwelcome hitchhikers. Wash your hands after playing with your pet and clean up after them, as worms and flea eggs are often present in feces. 

Ringworm is a fungal infection that lives on your pet’s skin and is transmitted easily from pets to people, especially children. It appears as a telltale ring on the skin and requires treatment in the form of an anti-fungal cream or oral solution. To prevent it, wash your pet and their bedding regularly, vacuum your home frequently to remove dead skin cells, and check your pet for rashes. 

3. Cat Scratch Disease

Cat Scratch Disease (CSD) is a bacterial infection that spreads when a cat licks a person’s open wound or scratches or bites them hard enough to break the skin. Caused by a bacterium called Bartonella henselae that infects cats through flea bites and flea droppings, the germ can spread to people through open skin where it causes a mild infection, fever, exhaustion, and enlarged lymph nodes. 

Although rare, CSD has been known to cause serious complications in some people, particularly young children, teenagers, and those with suppressed or weakened immune systems. For most people though, flu-like symptoms are the extent of a CSD infection. 

To prevent CSD, make sure your cat receives proper flea protection in the form of a flea collar or one of the best topical flea treatments. Immediately wash and clean any scratches or bites with a saline solution or warm soapy water, and regularly change your kitty’s bedding. 

4. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Lyme Disease

Jack Russell Terrier Dog Smiling in the Forest

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One of about a dozen spotted fever illnesses found around the world, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is common in the south Atlantic and south-central parts of the United States. Transmitted to humans via the American dog tick and the Rocky Mountain wood tick, it is the most common fatal tick-borne disease in the United States.

Although dogs themselves don’t pass on the disease, the ticks they carry can easily jump from host to host, moving from your furkid to you, with 90% of cases occurring in the warmer months from May to September. 

Symptoms of infection include severe headaches, fever, nausea, and exhaustion, accompanied by a rash that usually develops 2-5 days after the initial symptoms. You must seek medical attention for these symptoms if you suspect RMSF, as it is usually curable when treated with the antibiotic Doxycycline. 

There is no vaccine for RMSF, with regular flea and tick prevention measures being the best line of defense. It can also be helpful to learn how to remove a tick from your pet to ensure both you and your dog stay healthy. 

5. Rabies

While Rabies is mostly found in wild animals, like bats and raccoons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that most Rabies deaths in humans are caused by bites from dogs who have themselves been bitten by an infected animal. It can also be spread through scratches or a dog’s saliva coming into contact with your mouth, nose, or eyes.

While you might think it’d be easy to know if your dog has Rabies, the incubation period can last for weeks or months, meaning you could be at risk without realizing it. Thankfully, while Rabies can be fatal, it’s also preventable and curable with prompt medical attention. 

Early symptoms to watch out for include fever, headaches, and general weakness or discomfort. See your doctor if you have been bitten or scratched or if you notice changes in your dog that means you could have contracted the disease without being aware of it. The best way to avoid Rabies is to ensure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date.

Kathryn Rosenberg

Kathryn is a freelance writer with a passion for creating health and wellness, travel and wildlife content. Originally from New Zealand, her nomadic lifestyle has her currently fur baby-less. She scratches her pet parent itch by stealing frequent cuddles with any neighbourhood cat kind enough to indulge her.