Have you ever wondered about when your dog licks you in the mouth what disease you could get? I know I sure have! Many of you have told me how your dog eats their own droppings. Yes, this is the first thing that comes to my mind. However, there are many other diseases that our pets can give to us if we are not careful. These diseases are call zoonotics. The term zoonosis simply means the germs that can pass from animals to humans or humans to animals.
 
So with that in mind, I will begin a 6 part series covering multiple species and what types of diseases we can get from our pets. The species and topics will be:
 
1.Dogs
2.Cats
3.Horses
4.Pocket pets
5.Common wildlife, reptiles, and fish
6.Special considerations for infants, young children, and HIV/AIDS persons
 
Diseases from the domesticated dog
 
For starters, it is unlikely that by petting your dog (or any other) will cause you to get sick. However, it is a good practice to wash your hands with soap and plenty of water several times daily if you are in contact with the dogs saliva, urine or feces.
 
Dogs certainly carry a variety of germs that have the potential to get you sick. Most of the germs are very common and some could be rare. Rabies is a well-known deadly zoonotic and most people understand that the mode of transmission is through a bite (actually infected saliva). Almost all human deaths caused by rabies occur in Asia and Africa. There are an estimated 55,000 human deaths annually from rabies worldwide. Although the actual human cases of rabies is relatively low in the United States amounting to only 2 or 3 cases per year, the disease remains a problem in many other countries. Due to the deadly nature of rabies, an aggressive vaccination protocol of our domestic dog and cat population is still underway. According to the CDC, we have all but eliminated rabies from the domestic dog population. Rabies vaccinations in humans at risk for exposure to the disease have also reduced the number of cases per year. The oral vaccination of wildlife continues to be the greatest “wall of protection” we have to reduce the number of dog and human rabies cases. Other species such as the horse and cow can spread rabies.
 
Fungal diseases can be transmitted from infected dogs to humans. The most common fungal disease we see is Ringworm. It’s not a worm at all but a fungus that causes patchy hair loss usually in puppies. It can be difficult to treat because the fungus not only lives on the dog but also in its environment (bed, blankets, etc). Any patchy hair loss should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Puppies will often carry Campylobacter and/or Coccidia in their stool that could cause diarrhea and intestinal cramping in humans. The transmission of these diseases is “fecal-oral”. This means you have to ingest the stool usually from dirty hands entering the mouth. Another intestinal disease is Cryptosporidium (or Cryptosporidiosis) which again will cause diarrhea in humans. Other lesser known diseases include Brucellosis, Giardia, Lieshmaniasis, Salmonella, and Q Fever.
 
Other examples of diseases less known but still a huge concern is Leptospirosis caused by the Leptospira bacterium. I see this disease often enough that I really am concerned with it. The Leptospira bacterium is spread through infected urine that is ingested. Any mammal can carry the Leptospira in their kidneys and since all dogs “sniff” the ground for scents is it easy for our dogs to become infected. Once infected, the dog may transmit the Leptospira to us via their urine (Remember the “Lick” scenario?). The disease then can cause a profound renal infection and great discomfort for the human. Over the years I have treated many dogs with Leptospirosis and it can be a killer. Leptosporosis vaccination is critical for your dog. It protects him and you!
 
The tick borne diseases are also a real threat to you and your dog. The more prevalent two are Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Although these diseases need a vector (the tick) they still can be a zoonotic. This spring I will be talking more on this topic. I do encourage some form of tick control once the weather improves.
 
Finally, a zoonotic talk just would not be complete without addressing the parasitic diseases that we can pick up from our pooch. The parasite most often acquired from dogs is the Roundworm (Toxocaraisis- toxocara cati and toxocara canis). Dogs of any age can get roundworms but they are most likely to have roundworms when they are very young. Worms are often passed from a mother to her puppies before birth or shortly after birth through her milk. An estimated 10,000 human cases of Toxocara infection occur in the U.S. every year. Dogs and cats infected with roundworms contaminate their environment by passing the worm eggs in their feces. The eggs can survive for long periods of time in yards, parks and playgrounds. We can get roundworm infections through direct contact with contaminated feces. Infection can also occur by the ingestion (oral) of roundworm eggs in fecal contaminated soil, sand or plants.
 
Children are more likely to become infected since they play in areas where the ground may be contaminated by dogs and cats. In most cases, roundworm infection causes no symptoms or damage. In some cases, the immature worms (larvae) can migrate through the body causing damage to body tissues. This condition is known as visceral larva migrans. The larvae can damage nerves or even lodge into the eye which can result in permanent nerve or eye damage, even blindness. In a different manner, Tapeworms (Dipylidium infection) enter into humans via a different route. People become infected when they accidentally swallow a flea infected with tapeworm larvae; most reported cases involve children.
 
How then do we combat all of these diseases?
1.Wash hands after handling pets
2.Vaccinate you dog against Leptospirosis with a 4 serovar vaccine once or even twice a year
3.Keep your dog on monthly heartworm prevention—this controls the roundworm exposure
4.Keep your dog on the path in the park and try not to let him lick at areas on the ground
5.Bathe your dog every other week
6.Bring a stool sample from your dog once a year for a parasite exam
 
I hope this helps. Thanks for reading. Look for Part 2: Cats shortly. If you have any questions please refer to our “e-pet health” page or give us a call at 419-824-8177. We’re here to serve you and care for your pet.