St. Mark's Hospital - July 08, 2019

Pets can be wonderful companions, but your furry or feathery friend can give you more than unconditional love. Animals can also transmit bacteria, viruses and fungi—known as zoonotic diseases—to their owners. Here are a few infections your pet could pass on to you.

Toxoplasmosis: Most women who have been pregnant know about this parasitic infection that is typically transmitted to humans by cat feces. The infection can cause flu-like symptoms, but healthy people may not experience signs of toxoplasmosis. However, the parasite is dangerous to newborns who can be infected by their mothers in utero. People with weakened immune systems may also have complications.

Salmonella: This bacterial infection is usually acquired through contaminated food or water, but can also be spread by infected pets. Because the germs are shed in feces, reptile and amphibian tanks are the most common source of infection. However, chickens and other pet birds are also potential carriers and can pass the bacteria to you, causing stomach pain, diarrhea and fever.

Psittacosis: Also called parrot fever, humans can get this infection from pet birds, including farm birds. The bacteria are found in bird poop, pee and spit and can dry and form small dust particles. If you breath in these particles—while cleaning birdcages, for example—you may come down with a fever, headache and a dry cough.

This cough can lead to a serious lung infection if not treated.

The best way to prevent infections from your pets is to wash your hands after handling them. Also, keep pets and their living areas as clean as possible.