Diseases that can be transmitted between animals and people are termed “zoonotic,” and their danger is ever-present. By some estimates, six out of every 10 infectious diseases in people are caused by exposure to animals who themselves were exposed to parasites, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. And some parts of the world, including the northeastern United States, have been called areas of “emerging zoonoses,” that is, areas where more diseases are being transmitted between species, according to the journal Nature. But adhering to various simple sanitation measures can keep both you and your pet protected. Check out the zoonotic diseases below — and what you can do to make sure they don’t spread among your “family” members.
Roundworms. Roundworms are microscopic, worm-like parasites that can live in your dog’s intestine, surviving on his partially digested food. Symptoms include a fullness in the belly, diarrhea, and, if the dog is a puppy, stunted growth.
Contamination from animal to person most commonly occurs after gardening or playing in the sandbox without a serious hand scrubbing afterward — not just on the skin’s surface but also under the nails. The sticky eggs are often deposited in large numbers in soil where dogs (or other animals) have defecated and can end up being ingested after a simple swipe of your or a toddler’s fingers near the mouth or by eating without having first washed hands and nails scrupulously.
There’s apparently a lot of lackadaisical hand washing going on. Up to 6 million people a year are infected with roundworms (which can also be transmitted by pet cats). In our own bodies, they can inflame and damage organs including the lungs, liver, and brain.
Ringworm. Cats are more prone to ringworm than dogs, but dogs are not immune, nor are people. Raised, circular, crusted areas of ringworm infestation often are accompanied by hair loss at the infected sites. Transmission can come from touching everyday objects like your dog’s bedding and brush, along with favorite resting areas such as carpets where your pet likes to rest.
Fortunately, ringworm — a fungus — can be treated with topical medication or, in more severe cases, with anti-fungal oral medications. But to rid your home of fungal spores, you should also carefully clean your dog’s bedding and other areas where he hangs out, especially if carpeted.
Scabies. Dogs make good hosts for scabies mites, which cause itching that will lead your pet to scratch and chew at his skin. The skin itself will darken and thicken over time, and hair loss is common, too. People do not make ideal hosts for scabies mites, but contact with them causes 2 to 5 days of itching that can become severe, along with hives and bumps on the skin.
If your dog contracts scabies, thoroughly disinfect his bedding in the laundry. And take him to the vet. The doctor will prescribe a drug along with medicated dips and baths.
Lyme disease. Both dogs and people can contract Lyme disease from deer ticks, which for both species causes joint pain, fever, fatigue, and other problems. But how can a dog “give ” it to a person? Consider that dogs can be protected with anti-tick preventatives that are supposed to be administered regularly, as well as with vaccines. But there are no Lyme disease vaccines for people.
So a tick may enter your home carried by a dog. But because the dog is not an acceptable host, the tick can jump off and look to attach elsewhere —on you. Ticks often settle in people’s “nether” regions, such as the armpits, scalp, or groin.
Even if you keep up to date with your dog’s tick medicine, check him regularly when you come back from walks in fields or woods. Check yourself, too. And keep your carpets vacuumed regularly. That helps suck up ticks that manage to get into your house on your dog’s back but end up searching for a different living body in which to embed themselves.
Salmonellosis. Salmonella bacteria are often contained in undercooked meat or meat byproducts, as are Campylobacter and E. Coli. It is very important that you serve your dog and yourself only well-cooked meat and poultry that is done in the middle and also wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw food so you don’t transmit any pathogens to your pet. In addition, wash all of your own dirty dishes and the dog food bowl in hot, soapy water to kill any dangerous bacteria that may be colonizing on them. Children five years old and younger should be kept away from your dog’s eating area as well as his food and treats as an extra measure of precaution.