Although there are innumerous health and emotional benefits of owning a pet, it can sometimes make you sick too. It can happen even when your pet might look healthy. Such diseases you might acquire from animals are called zoonotic diseases (zoonoses) and CDC warns that they are on the rise.

Though you might first think about diseases like Ebola, there are umpteen zoonotic infections that can begin right next to your home every day. Over the last ten years, outbreaks of zoonoses have been associated with animals (from pets to farm animals to wildlife), in every possible place, be it home or away.

Zoonoses can cause illnesses ranging from minor skin infections to deadly ones like anthrax or rabies. Several zoonotic pathogens are the enteric forms such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium and Shiga toxin-producing E.Coli. The CDC has reported that, from 2009-2017, more than 350 outbreaks of such human zoonoses caused by enteric pathogens have been associated with human contact.

About 60% of all known infectious diseases in human beings are reportedly caused by animals. Any person who gets into contact with animals- be it pet owners, zoo workers, attendants or travelers can be at risk. It is estimated that a minimum of 2.5 billion cases of human illness and 2.7 million deaths worldwide annually can be attributed to zoonotic diseases.

Any form of contact with any animal and in any setting can be a potential risk for acquiring a zoonotic disease, even when the animal doesn’t look sick. Transmission can also happen during contact with areas where the animals live or roam about, their items, food, water or other waste products. Since zoonoses can resemble any other common illness, a thorough medical history is essential.

With an alarmingly increasing number of households that own a pet, nontraditional pets like amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and farm animals which also gets treated as pets have caused zoonotic diseases in the past decade.

Some patients such as the ones listed below are at a higher risk of zoonoses while compared to others.

  • Children below the age of 5
  • Older adults (above 65 years of age)
  • Immunocompromised people
  • Pregnant women

It is recommended that this higher-risk group avoid contact with animals that pose a higher risk of illness and practice healthy habits around all animals.

With the increasing opportunities for interactions with animals and with zoonoses also on the rise, it is essential to stay healthy around animals.

Here are a few tips for that:

  • Maintain personal hygiene- wash your hands after being around animals. Use an alcohol-based sanitizer if you do not have water and soap.
  • Avoid getting scratched or bitten by animals.
  • Try to prevent mosquito bites, fleas, and ticks.