Here’s a certain amount of ickiness you have to accept when you adopt a pet. You know, a good does of eww that goes right along with the whole snuggling and unconditional love thing. That mystery stain on the couch from Mr. Bubbles your basset hound? Best not to think about it. Those tracks leading away from Muppet’s litter box? Let’s pretend it never happened. And don’t ever wonder where that tongue’s been.
But can all those pet germs actually make you sick? In a word: yup.
Just like you can catch a cold from your husband through a kiss or unobstructed sneeze, pets can also pass diseases along to their owners. Don’t worry–we’re not talking about the Pomeranian Death Flu here; nearly everything you could catch from your dog or cat is preventable and treatable. “If you wash your hands and handle your animals carefully and keep them vaccinated and healthy, you shouldn’t have any problems,” says veterinarian Emilio DeBess, DVM, public health veterinary for the state of Oregon. (Find out how to keep your pet clean and disease-free, in The Right Way to Wash Your Pup.)
Here’s a list of what your kitty or pooch might be sharing with you–and what to do about it.
When it comes to diseases passed from pet to owner, ringworm is about as contagious as it gets. Ringworm spores can survive for months without a host, where a pet could pick up the fungal infection.
Symptoms in pets: Skin lesions and patches of hair loss with a red mark in the center
Symptoms in people: Red, circular patches on the skin
Treat it: Prescription ointment or oral medication for people and pets
Prevent it: Wash bedding in hot water once or twice a month and avoid sharing unwashed blankets or grooming tools with other pet owners.
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The most common internal parasite in cats, roundworms resemble spaghetti up to 4 inches long (yikes). Kittens can be exposed through an infected mother’s milk, while older cats can catch worms by eating an infected rodent. When it comes to humans, about 10,000 children are infected with roundworms annually. Worst case scenario, the untreated parasite infection could lead to blindness in humans.
Symptoms in pets: Diarrhea, visible worms in stool, vomiting, constipation, coughing, bloody stool
Symptoms in humans: Cough, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, blood in stool
Treat it: Prescription antiparasitic drugs for people and pets
Prevent it: Outdoor cats are more prone to worms, so consider this reason number 657 to keep you cat inside. Make hand washing after handling a cat or scooping the litter box a household rule. And according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, eating bitter and spicy foods like turmeric, cayenne peppers, figs, ginger, olives, and garlic could naturally deter a roundworm infection.
Hookworms suck on the intestinal lining of dogs, causing a potentially life-threatening blood loss, especially in puppies. The eggs found in pet feces could transfer through the skin in pet owners if you happened to, say, step on a dropping with your bare feet in the backyard.
Symptoms in pets: Diarrhea, weight loss
Symptoms in humans: Often none but could include an itchy rash, cough, wheezing, stomach pain, anemia, or loss of appetite
Treat it: Prescription antiparasitic drugs for pets and people
Prevent it: General prevention for all types of worms includes picking up your dog’s feces in the yard so parasite eggs won’t hatch.
More common in dogs than in cats, this waterborne, one-cell organism lives in streams, rivers, and lakes.
Symptoms in pets: Diarrhea
Symptoms in humans: Diarrhea
Treat it: Antiparasitic meds for people; see your vet to determine proper treatment for pets
Prevent it: Take clean drinking water for your dog when you go on hikes and favor dog parks where owners are responsible about cleaning up feces, Dr. DeBess recommends. And always wash your hands after handling your pet’s poop to avoid coming in contact with the disease. To find out if you’re in a parasite hotspot, check the Companion Animal Parasite Council.
There’s nothing cuter than baby critters, but even the most smitten human can unknowingly pick up this common bug through kittens, puppies, and even young horses, ferrets, rabbits, and birds. Campylobacter is one of the most common diarrhea-inducing diseases in the United States.
Symptoms in pets: Diarrhea
Symptoms in humans: Diarrhea
Treat it: For humans, stay hydrated; sometimes meds are administered, but usually people recover on their own. For pets, head to the vet to see if your furry friend will require pet meds.
Prevent it: If a kitten or puppy is sick with diarrhea, avoid excessive holding or kissing. Even after the pet has recovered, wash your hands after touching him; an animal infected with campylobacter will continue to shed germs for up to seven weeks if left untreated.
Attention turtle lovers: between 77 to 90% of reptiles harbor salmonella. Baby chicks can also carry the germ.
Symptoms in pets: Reptile pets and chicks often don’t show symptoms
Symptoms in humans: Abdominal pain, fever, vomiting, headache, nausea
Treat it: Most people recover without treatment, but some need to be hospitalized
Prevent it: If you have a reptile or chickens as pets, make sure everyone always washes their hands after handling. And never wash a tank in your kitchen sink. If you wash it in the bathtub, be sure to disinfect the tub before people use it again.
Kids are more likely than adults to be infected with tapeworm because they tend to forget to wash their hands before coming into contact with their mouths. While undeniably unpleasant, tapeworms are easily treatable.
Symptoms in pets: Dragging back end across the ground; rice-like pieces in the pet’s stool or longer worms in pet vomit
Symptoms in humans: Rice-like pieces in feces
Treat it: Anti-worm medication for pets and people
Prevent it: Keep your pets flea-free. People can catch tapeworm by accidentally–brace yourself, this is gross–ingesting a flea infected with tapeworm larvae.
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8. Cat Scratch Disease
The bartonella germ could hang out in cats’ long nails and be passed into you through a scratch or bite. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 40% of cats carry the disease at some point in their lives.
Symptoms in pets: Fatigue, history of flea and/or tick infestation, swollen lymph nodes
Symptoms in humans: Small, red bump near bite or scratch site; swollen, painful lymph nodes near bite or scratch, fever, headache, fatigue, joint pain, skin disorders, and weight loss
Treat it: Usually clears on its own; sometimes antibiotics are required, especially in people with weakened immune systems
Prevent it: Keep your cat’s nails trimmed, avoid rough play with kittens, and don’t let cats lick any of your open wounds.
9. Bubonic Plague
Nope, you didn’t just get transported to the Middle Ages. While you can’t get this directly from your pet, you could catch it from a hitchhiking flea. Luckily, it’s extremely rare–CDC reports an average of just seven human cases per year.
Symptoms in pets: Fever, inflammation, swollen and painful lymph nodes
Symptoms in humans: Sudden fever, headache, chills, weakness, swollen and painful lymph nodes
Treat it: Prompt treatment with antibiotics for people and pets
Prevent it: Keep your pet flea-free
A common disease transferred from cats to people, felines are most often infected when they eat raw prey. The disease is most dangerous if a woman becomes newly infected just before or while pregnant; it could cause serious eye and developmental problems for the child.
Symptoms in pets: Most cats develop immunity, but kittens are more vulnerable and can experience diarrhea or more serious problems, like lung, liver, or nervous system damage.
Symptoms in humans: Often humans show no symptoms, but sometimes toxoplasmosis causes flu-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes. If the symptoms disappear, the disease could still lurk in your system.
Treat it: Blood tests can ID the disease. For humans, drugs such as pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine, plus folinic acid can be used. If you’re at high risk for complications (women wanting to become pregnant or people with weakened immune systems), you can ask your doctor for a test.
Prevent it: Don’t let your cat outside to hunt, wash your hands after scooping the litter box, and keep cats from going to the bathroom in sandboxes and gardens.
Although rare in the United States, rabies is fatal once symptoms appear in both pets and animals, meaning prevention needs to be an absolute priority.
Symptoms in pets: Symptoms vary but could include behavioral changes, fever, hypersensitivity to touch, light, and sound, hiding in dark places, foaming of the mouth, staggering, loss of appetite, seizures, loss of appetite, sudden death.
Symptoms in humans: Flu-like symptoms, general weakness, headache, discomfort, prickling, or itching at the site of the bite, anxiety, confusion, agitation, hallucinations.
Treat it: If you believe you may have been exposed to a rabid animal, seek immediate medical attention. Doctors may start a series of post-exposure shots to protect you from the virus. Left untreated, rabies is almost always fatal. Call the vet immediately if you believe you pet was exposed. If vaccinated, they may do a booster shot. If unvaccinated, they may suggest euthanasia, but you could also quarantine your pet to see if symptoms develop.
Prevent it: Keep your furry family members vaccinated in accordance with your state’s rabies law, and keep pets away from wild animals. Tell your doctor if you’re bitten or scratched by an unknown or unvaccinated dog, cat, or wild animal.
Written by Leah Zerbe, Prevention & Rodalenews.com