Zoonotic Diseases in Dogs

Overview of Canine Zoonotic Diseases

Whether you own a dog or a cat, a bird or a reptile, a rabbit or fish, you should be aware that your pet can have an effect on your health by infecting you with certain diseases. These are called zoonotic diseases, which are animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans.

You may already know about some of the more common zoonotic diseases: Lyme disease is a bacterial disease transmitted by tick bites; malaria is transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito, and bubonic plague is transmitted by rats, or rather by fleas that become infected by biting the rats. However, you should also be aware of several common zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted by your pet. Most common are:

All animals can acquire zoonotic diseases, but animals at increased risk include: outdoor pets, unvaccinated animals, pets that are immunocompromised (a suppressed immune system), poorly groomed animals and animals that are housed in unsanitary conditions. People with immune disorders, on chemotherapy or immunosuppressive therapy may be at increased risk of infection.

Animals with zoonotic diseases may exhibit a variety of clinical signs depending on the type of disease. The signs can vary from mild to severe. As a pet owner you should know your animal and be aware of any changes in behavior and appearance.

What to Watch For

Signs of zoonotic diseases may include:

Veterinary Care for Zoonotic Diseases in Dogs

Your veterinarian will need a good history, including an accurate travel history, and complete physical examination in order to make an accurate diagnosis. Since there are so many different kinds of zoonotic diseases, your veterinarian will also do various diagnostic tests. Some of these may include blood tests, cultures, x-rays and ultrasounds.

Treatment depends on the specific diagnosis and may include antibiotics, anti-parasitic drugs or anti-fungal drugs; intravenous fluids; symptomatic care for associated conditions (e.g. vomiting or diarrhea); and analgesic (pain) medication.

Preventative Care

Not all animals with zoonotic diseases are serious risks to people, but good hygiene practices should always be observed. Proper education, a good understanding of the disease and its method of transmission are a vital part of home and preventative care. Use proper hygiene and sanitation when handling pets and their excretions and maintain a good program of veterinary care.

In-depth Information on Zoonotic Diseases in Dogs

There are a large number of zoonotic diseases that can potentially affect people, caused by a wide variety of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungal organisms. People may become infected by a number of different routes. Poor sanitary habits may lead to the ingestion of small amounts of animal waste products and transmission of zoonotic disease. Fecal waste is a source of many bacterial and parasitic infections, and even urine contamination can lead to disease (e.g. Leptospirosis). Ingestion of undercooked food products, skin contact with infectious agents (e.g. ringworm, fleas, mites), and bite wound or scratches are all potential modes of zoonotic transmission.

Many zoonotic diseases are not directly transmitted from animal to people, but they require an intermediate host (vector), such as a flea or a tick, for transmission to occur. The dog or cat brings the vector into the household where humans can become exposed.

Even though many zoonotic diseases include some very common aliments in animals, serious disease in people is relatively uncommon. Certain individuals, however, are at increased risk.

A good knowledge of the most common zoonotic diseases and routine health care with good husbandry and sanitation practices will significantly decrease the likelihood of either you or your pet acquiring a zoonotic disease. Your veterinarian routinely provides yearly exams, preventative internal and external parasite control programs and vaccinations. These services dramatically reduce the zoonotic potential of disease. Additionally, veterinarians usually provide information and consultation on training and behavioral issues. This advice is extremely important, since the most common zoonotic diseases caused by small animals are bite and scratch wounds.

Most Common and Significant Zoonotic Diseases

The following list includes the most common and most significant zoonotic diseases:

Bacterial Causes

Viral Causes

Disease Requiring Intermediate Hosts for Transmission

Diagnosis of Zoonotic Diseases in Dogs

Because there are so many possibilities, your veterinarian will base his diagnosis on a history, physical exam and various diagnostic tests as dictated by the symptoms.

Treatment of Zoonotic Diseases in Dogs

Proper therapy requires an accurate diagnosis. Many times, treatment is based on the clinical condition and a presumptive diagnosis, while a definitive diagnosis is pending. Since there are so many types of zoonotic diseases, the treatment is based on the specific organ system affected. For example, animals with kidney failure are treated with intravenous fluids. Animals with signs of a bacterial infection are treated with systemic antibiotics. Treatment courses vary from a single dose of anti-parasitic medication to hospitalization and intensive care management. General treatment options include:

Follow-up Care for Zoonotic Diseases in Dogs

Optimal treatment for your dog requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your dog does not improve rapidly. Administer all medications as directed. Alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your dog.

It is very important to have the proper information about the specific disease in order to prevent the potential spread of the disease to people. If a zoonotic disease is suspected, appropriate steps need to be taken to ensure that family members are adequately informed and protected from potential infection. This might involve isolating your pet, or taking greater care in cleaning your pet’s excrement. Conversely, many diseases have zoonotic potential, but are not directly contagious to people (e.g. tick borne diseases), and thus, do not require such precautions.

Follow-up blood tests may be required to ensure your pet is adequately responding to therapy.