Bacteria, Epidemiology, Infectious Diseases, Microbiology

10 Bacterial Infections From Your Pets: How to Stay Safe

Author Chandana Balasubramanian , 07-Dec-2023

Having pets welcomes us to a world filled with wagging tails and purring companions. From loyal dogs to cuddly cats, these furry friends offer more than just companionship—they bring love, laughter, and a lot of happiness to our homes.

 

Interacting with pets has been shown to reduce our stress levels and blood pressure.

 

Additional benefits come from daily activities with dogs, cats, and their furry ilk. For example, walking your dog boosts your mood and offers cardiovascular benefits. A study even found that growing up with a pet was connected to lower levels of childhood anxiety.

 

However, pets can also be carriers of infectious diseases that may put human health at risk.

 

This article discusses the risk of bacterial infections associated with household pets and ways to protect our health and that of our pets.

 

How do pets spread diseases to humans?

Diseases transmitted from animals to humans are called zoonotic diseases.

Household pets can transmit infectious diseases through various means, including:

  • Direct contact
  • Bites
  • Scratches
  • Exposure to their bodily fluids. 

 

Additionally, pet fur and dander can harbor allergens and pathogens, increasing the risk of disease transmission. 

Pet owners must understand these risks and take appropriate measures to protect themselves and their families.

 

Bacterial infections that spread from pets to humans

1. Salmonella

Dogs, cats, reptiles, and birds can carry salmonella bacteria, leading to gastrointestinal infections in humans. 

Humans can contract salmonella from pets through direct contact or exposure to their feces, saliva, or the environment they inhabit. Contaminated pet food or surfaces may also be sources of transmission. 

Salmonellosis symptoms in humans may include diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever.

2. Campylobacteriosis

Dogs, especially puppies, can carry and transmit the infectious campylobacter bacteria to humans through:

  • Direct contact: Touching pets, especially their feces or areas contaminated with feces, can lead to transmission.
  • Ingestion: Consuming food or water contaminated with the bacteria, which may have come from contact with pet feces, is risky.
  • Handling and oral contact: Bites, scratches, or contact with contaminated surfaces, followed by touching the face, can lead to infection.

 

Campylobacteriosis symptoms in humans may include diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and nausea. Seeking medical advice is important if infection is suspected.

3. Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by the leptospira bacteria. 

Pets, particularly dogs, can transmit leptospirosis to humans through contact with their urine or contaminated water sources. 

The bacteria can enter the body through cuts, abrasions, or mucous membranes. Additionally, indirect transmission can occur when humans come into contact with soil or surfaces contaminated with infected urine. 

Leptospirosis symptoms in humans may include fever, muscle aches, and potentially severe complications affecting the kidneys and liver. Seeking prompt medical attention is crucial if infection is suspected.

4. Staph infections (including MRSA)

Staph infections, including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), can be transmitted from pets to humans through close contact. 

Staphylococcus bacteria, including MRSA, can naturally reside on the skin and in the nasal passages of humans and animals, including dogs. While it’s more common for humans to transmit these bacteria to pets, pets can still carry and potentially transmit them.

Transmission from animals can occur through:

  • Direct Contact: Physical contact with an infected pet, especially if the pet has an open wound or skin infection.
  • Contaminated Surfaces: Touching surfaces, such as pet bedding or toys, that have been in contact with an infected pet.

Staph infections, including MRSA, can cause skin and soft tissue infections in both pets and humans. If symptoms arise, seeking medical attention is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment.

5. Capnocytophaga infection

Capnocytophaga infection is caused by bacteria of the Capnocytophaga genus, commonly found in the mouths of dogs and cats. 

While rare, human infection can occur through bites, scratches, or close contact with a pet’s saliva. People with weakened immune systems may be more susceptible. 

Practicing good hygiene, particularly after interactions with pets and avoiding bites or scratches, reduces the risk. 

Capnocytophaga infections can lead to symptoms ranging from mild illness to severe complications, so seeking medical attention is crucial if infection is suspected.

6. Brucellosis

Brucellosis is a bacterial infection caused by Brucella species, and it can be transmitted from animals, including dogs, to humans. 

While it’s uncommon, transmission can occur through:

  • Contact with infected bodily fluids: Handling tissues or fluids from an infected animal, especially during birthing or abortion in dogs.
  • Inhalation of airborne particles: Inhaling airborne particles contaminated with Brucella bacteria.
  • Consumption of raw dairy products: Ingesting unpasteurized dairy products from infected animals can lead to infection.

 

Brucellosis symptoms in humans may include fever, joint pain, and fatigue. Given the potential severity of brucellosis, seeking medical attention is crucial if exposure occurs or symptoms develop.

7. E.Coli infections

Dogs can carry and transmit Escherichia coli (E.coli) bacteria, leading to gastrointestinal infections in humans.

Pets, especially dogs, can transmit E.coli to humans through several means:

  • Fecal-Oral transmission: Contact with pet feces directly or through contaminated surfaces or objects.
  • Contaminated food or water: Consumption of food or water contaminated with E. coli, possibly due to contact with pet feces.
  • Direct contact: Touching pets, especially their mouths, and then touching the face or mouth without proper handwashing.

 

E.Coli infection symptoms in humans may include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and, in severe cases, kidney problems. Seeking medical attention is essential if E. coli infection is suspected.

8. Bartonellosis (Cat Scratch Fever)

Bartonella infection, also known as Cat Scratch Fever or Cat Scratch Disease (CSD), is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted to humans from cats, especially kittens. The bacteria are typically present in the cat’s saliva and can be spread through bites or scratches. Fleas can also carry Bartonella, and their bites can transmit the infection.

Ways in which pets, particularly cats, can transmit Bartonella to humans:

  • Bites and scratches: Direct contact with bites or scratches from an infected cat, especially kittens.
  • Flea bites: Fleas that infest cats can carry Bartonella, and their bites can transmit the bacteria.

 

Bartonellosis symptoms in humans may include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and overall discomfort. Seeking medical attention is crucial if symptoms develop after contact with an infected cat or flea bites.

9. Pasteurella infections

Pasteurella infections, caused by bacteria of the Pasteurella genus, can be transmitted from pets, particularly cats and dogs, to humans through bites, scratches, or close contact with the animal’s saliva. Pasteurella is a normal part of the oral flora in many pets, but it can lead to infections in humans if introduced into wounds.

Ways in which pets can transmit Pasteurella infections to humans:

  • Bites and scratches: Direct contact with bites or scratches, especially if the skin is broken, allowing the bacteria to enter.
  • Contact with saliva: Close contact with an infected pet’s saliva, such as through licking open wounds or mucous membranes.

 

Pasteurella infection symptoms may include redness, swelling, and pain at the site of the wound, along with systemic symptoms in severe cases.

10. Psittacosis

Psittacosis is a bacterial infection caused by chlamydia psittaci. While it is commonly associated with birds, especially parrots and other psittacine birds, it can spread to humans. 

Here’s how pets, particularly birds, can potentially transmit psittacosis:

  • Inhalation of respiratory secretions: The bacteria are commonly found in the respiratory secretions of infected birds. Inhaling airborne particles or dust containing these secretions can lead to transmission.
  • Direct contact: Handling infected birds or coming into contact with their feathers, droppings, or respiratory discharges can pose a risk.
  • Contaminated surfaces: Contact with surfaces or objects contaminated with the bacteria, such as cages, food bowls, or perches, may contribute to transmission.

 

Symptoms of psittacosis in humans can include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and respiratory symptoms like cough and difficulty breathing. 

Psittacosis is not commonly transmitted from pet birds to humans, and the risk can be further minimized by practicing good hygiene:

  • Wash hands thoroughly after handling birds or cleaning their cages.
  • Avoid close contact with the face or mouth when handling birds.
  • Keep bird cages, accessories, and the surrounding environment clean.

 

If there are concerns about psittacosis or if symptoms develop after exposure to birds, seeking medical advice is essential. 

 

Prevention and safety measures for pet owners

To ensure the health and safety of both pets and their owners, it’s essential to follow preventive measures and safety guidelines. 

Here are some key recommendations:

  • Regular check-ups at the vet: Schedule routine veterinary visits to monitor your pet’s health and address any issues promptly. Keep vaccinations up to date to prevent common diseases.
  • Hygiene and cleanliness: Wash your hands thoroughly after handling pets and their food or cleaning their living spaces. Scoop and dispose of pet waste regularly to minimize the risk of parasitic infections.
  • Proper nutrition: Provide a balanced and nutritious diet appropriate for your pet’s species, age, and health condition.
  • Flea and tick control: Use veterinarian-recommended flea and tick prevention methods to protect pets and their owners.
  • Regular exercise: Ensure pets get regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight and overall well-being.
  • Dental care: Establish a dental care routine to prevent dental issues in pets. Use pet-friendly toothbrushes and toothpaste.
  • Parasite prevention: Administer regular preventive measures, like deworming, to protect against internal and external parasites.
  • Spaying/Neutering: Consider spaying or neutering your pet to prevent certain health issues and control the pet population.
  • Behavioral training: Train your pet to follow basic commands, reducing the risk of accidents and promoting a harmonious relationship.
  • Pet identification: Ensure pets have proper identification, such as collars with tags and microchips, to facilitate their return if lost.
  • Safe environment: Create a secure environment to prevent accidents and injuries. Remove potential hazards and provide a comfortable living space.
  • Education and awareness: Stay informed about the specific needs and behaviors of your pet’s species. Educate yourself on common health issues and symptoms.
  • Regular grooming: Regularly groom your pet to maintain skin and coat health, and check for abnormalities.
  • Quarantine new pets: Quarantine new pets before introducing them to existing pets to prevent the spread of diseases.
  • Monitor stress levels: Be attentive to signs of stress or behavioral changes in your pet and address them promptly.

 

By following these preventive measures and safety guidelines, pet owners can contribute to the overall well-being and health of their furry companions while minimizing potential risks to themselves and others.

 

Conclusion

For millions, furry friends are more than pets; they become cherished family members. It’s important to protect the health of our pets, loved ones, and ourselves. To do this, we need to minimize the risk of infections from direct contact, bites, scratches, fur, dander allergies, ticks, and exposure to their body fluids.

Understanding the bacterial infections you could get from your pets and how to prevent them can help you and your pets live healthier lives.

 

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References
[1]A. M. Gadomski, M. B. Scribani, N. Krupa, P. Jenkins, Z. Nagykaldi, and A. L. Olson, “Pet dogs and children’s health: Opportunities for chronic disease prevention?,” Prev. Chronic Dis., vol. 12, no. 150204, 2015.
[2]“Signs and symptoms of Capnocytophaga infection,” Cdc.gov, 16-Oct-2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.cdc.gov/capnocytophaga/signs-symptoms/index.html. [Accessed: 07-Dec-2023].
[3]“Bartonella henselae infection or cat scratch disease (CSD),” Cdc.gov, 19-Jan-2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.cdc.gov/bartonella/bartonella-henselae/index.html. [Accessed: 07-Dec-2023].
[4]S. Körmöndi et al., “Human pasteurellosis health risk for elderly persons living with companion animals,” Emerg. Infect. Dis., vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 229–235, 2019.
[5]“Signs and symptoms,” Cdc.gov, 27-Jul-2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/atypical/psittacosis/about/signs-symptoms.html. [Accessed: 07-Dec-2023].
Author
Chandana Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network, and has a Masters degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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