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Zoonotic Diseases – what are they?

Zoonotic Diseases – what are they?

Zoonotic disease are infectious diseases that can pass from animals to humans. Our household pets can carry infections which can make us unwell. Most are easily prevented and treated, a few are more serious. In this blog, we will look at how we can protect the whole family, without compromising our enjoyment of the furry members.



Intestinal worms are an unpleasant thought, but they commonly infest dogs and cats, particularly the young. Young animals can be born with them as most are transmitted in milk – and some can even cross the placenta, causing infestations even before birth. Puppies and kittens who have large worm burdens are often pot-bellied and thin with unkempt coats. However, even perfectly healthy-looking pets can have worms.

It’s always important to pick up after your pet!

Roundworm eggs are shed in dog and cat faeces. Picking up faeces is recommended, as eggs contaminate the environment resulting in human infection. Intestinal infection causes discomfort and loss of weight. Unfortunately, roundworm larvae can spread to the eye in children, resulting in severe disease and loss of sight. The larvae also cause disease in other internal organs, such as the brain and heart. Research in Sweden suggests that children infected with roundworm larvae can be more susceptible to asthma and learning difficulties.

Hookworm is an intestinal roundworm whose larvae can penetrate the skin. The larvae causes swelling and itching when it burrows into human skin, and inflammation as it travels through tissue to the gut.

All roundworms are easily managed by routine preventative health care. We can supply monthly roundworm treatment that stops environmental contamination. This makes your garden and other areas your dog or cat may go much safer.

General hygiene is also important. Wash fruit and vegetables so no contaminated soil is eaten. While gardening or cleaning out pet enclosures, use gloves and wash hands thoroughly. Encourage all family members to wash their hands after handling pets. 


Tapeworms are less common than roundworms. Dogs who have contact with sheep and cattle faeces, carcases or raw food are most commonly infected. Humans are an accidental host, we can be infected by contact with the faeces of infected dogs. Human tapeworm infection can result in cyst formation within the body and cause serious disease. Talk to us about tapeworm prevention to stay safe.


Ringworm is not actually a worm, it is a fungal infection called dermatophytosis. It is known as ringworm because, when humans are infected, circular areas of red, inflamed skin are seen. The fungal spores can live on fence posts where infected livestock rub, or on pets themselves, particularly long coated cats and rabbits. It is spread by close contact. Hair loss and thickened skin is usually a sign in the cat, rabbit, dog or rodent.

Ringworm is easily treated. It can become more severe in young children, older people and those with underlying health problems.  

Zoonoses spread by fleas and ticks

Cat fleas can carry a bacterium which causes a disease called ‘cat scratch fever’. This disease can cause fever and infection in a dog or human, if they are bitten or scratched. Carefully clean any wounds inflicted by a cat and note any swelling or increase in body temperature. Contact your doctor if you are concerned.

Fleas themselves can be a formidable zoonosis, if your pet carries an egg laying adult flea into the home. The eggs laid in a single day will infest the house quickly, resulting in humans and animals alike being painfully bitten. Scratching flea bites can result in bacterial infection in both pets and owners.

A creepy tick!

Lyme disease is caused by an organism transmitted in tick saliva. Dogs and humans are affected, infection is rare in the cat. If a person is bitten by an infected tick, they may develop a target-like spreading skin lesion, then flu-like symptoms and joint pain. This can become a serious disease. When dogs are affected, they usually have joint stiffness, lethargy and a high temperature.

We can provide routine flea and tick prevention to reduce the risk of disease to you and your pet.


The bacteria that causes leptospirosis is transmitted in the urine of infected animals. It is most commonly found in rat urine, which contaminates soil and water. Cats are rarely affected. However, infected people and dogs develop severe illness which may be fatal. The disease causes liver and kidney failure. If treated early, both humans and dogs may respond to antibiotics and supportive care. Prevention of the disease in dogs protects them and their owners. We can vaccinate dogs annually to protect them from most strains of leptospirosis commonly found in the UK.


Toxoplasma gondii is a cat parasite, spread in cat faeces which can infect humans. Healthy people are usually unaffected, but those with underlying health problems can become very ill with flu-like symptoms. It is also dangerous in pregnancy as it can result in birth defects, miscarriage and stillbirth. It can be present in contaminated soil, litter trays, raw or undercooked food. Good hygiene is the key to avoiding infection.


Scabies mite – heavenly!

This skin mite causes scabies in humans. It is caught by close contact with an infected dog. Scabies causes an incredibly itchy rash and can spread throughout the body if the person has a compromised immune system. Dogs usually show signs on their legs and ear flaps of inflammation and skin thickening. It is very infectious, spreading within a human family quickly. However, it is easily prevented with many modern parasite products.

Gastrointestinal Zoonoses

Unfortunately, many of the bacteria and parasites that cause upset tummies and diarrhoea in the dog and cat can infect humans. These include Salmonella, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium and Giardia.

Protect yourself and the family by using gloves to pick up faeces when your dog is unwell. Also, wash your hands thoroughly after handling them and remove any contaminated faeces from their coats by regularly bathing them.

Raw feeding or accessing carcases on walks can increase the risk of these infections. Contamination can be prevented by using gloves to handle raw food, washing hands thoroughly, washing bowls and cutlery at high temperatures and storing raw food separately.

Some zoonotic diseases are endemic in other countries, such as Rabies, Brucella, Leishmania and Ehrlichia. Imported pets should be vaccinated or tested prior to arriving in the UK, depending on the disease risk. However, some of these infections have been brought to the UK. We can check a travelling or imported pet for infections using a travel screen blood test.

Zoonotic diseases of livestock such as tuberculosis can (rarely) affect pets in the UK. We are alert for symptoms in household pets when carrying out routine examinations.

We can enjoy our furry family members sharing our homes without fear of infection by taking simple measures. Using regular preventative health treatments and practising good hygiene, personally and in the home, will keep the whole family safe.