Pet love – is getting too close dangerous?

The grandkids visit and your pet dog Fido jumps and licks their face. It’s common but what’s the danger to the health of the grandkids... and Fido?

Key Points

  • Diseases can be transmitted from animals to humans and visa-versa 

  • Anyone can be infected but children and older people are at higher risk 

  • Proper hygiene is crucial in reducing your risk of getting a disease from your pet 

Unfortunately, there are diseases that animals can transmit to humans. And sadly, for our pets, there are diseases they get from us.  

These diseases can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi and can include dermatophytosis (commonly known as ringworm), tuberculosis, and antibiotic resistant bacterial infections such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).  

How are diseases transmitted?

Infections affecting both humans and animals can be transmitted in a number of ways including: 

  • Direct contact between a human and an animal. 

  • Indirect contact through interaction with an area or object that the infected individual has been in contact with. This can include animal enclosures, bedding, equipment, clothes, and soil. 

  • Consumption of animal products from an infected animal or consumption of food/water that has been contaminated by an infectious agent – such as consuming undercooked meat or unpasteurized milk, and handling raw meat and not washing your hands thoroughly before eating.  

  • Infections can also be transmitted through a second animal (most commonly an insect) that carries the disease usually from the animal to the human.    

What increases the risk that a human will be infected?

Anyone can be infected. However, there are certain people who are at greater risk because their immune system is not functioning normally and are unable to effectively resist or fight infections.  

These include:  

  • Young children (under five years of age) 

  • Older people (over 65 years of age) 

  • People taking immunosuppressants (for example, chemotherapy drugs or steroids) and  

  • Anyone with a pre-existing disease that suppresses the immune system (such as cancer or HIV). 

People at greater risk of contracting infectious disease should be careful around animals and take the precautions explained below. They should also talk to their doctor about any precautions they should take related to their condition. 

Minimising the risk of disease transmission

The risk of contracting disease from an animal is low. If you are healthy, using common sense, maintaining good hygiene, and keeping your animals healthy can help lower your chances of getting or transmitting one.  

The following steps will minimise the risk: 

  • Hands should be washed after being near animals, whether you touched them or not. 

  • Keep animals healthy with regular veterinary checks and good preventative health care (for example, regular effective parasite control).  

  • Avoid being licked on or in the mouth by animals. 

  • Teach children that they should not put their mouths on an animal and should not put any part of an animal’s body in their mouth. 

  • Prevent children from playing in soil which may be contaminated with animal faeces. 

  • Avoid getting animal bites and scratches. If you get bitten or scratched by an animal it is always recommended to contact your doctor for advice.  

  • Prevent bites from insects that may transmit infections such as mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas.  

  • Take care around animals you may encounter – they won’t always show symptoms of zoonotic diseases (which can include Anthrax, Hendra virus, and Avian Influenza).  

Though far less common, there are also human infections that can be transmitted to animals – there have been documented cases of pets contracting diseases like tuberculosis and H1N1 from their owners.  

If you have an infection that could be transmitted to an animal, discuss how to take precautions to reduce the risk with your doctor and a veterinarian. 

Source: RSPCA