Is Your Pet Making You Sick?

By Renee Castro


If you’re reading this, it’s pretty likely that your pet is part of your family. As pet owners, we share our beds, food and just about everything else with our furry friends. But is their gift back to us more than just love and sloppy kisses? Can our pets actually be making us sick? Let’s dive into the facts about the ways your pet can make you sick. 

Cats can spread leukemia to humans. 

FICTION While cats cannot spread leukemia to humans, there is such thing as feline leukemia, as well as other feline immunodeficiency viruses. According to UF Health Medical Care Health Encyclopedia regarding pets and the immunocompromised person, while these viruses may not spread to humans, they can affect your cat’s immune system and you should have your cat tested. 

My pet cannot give me a stomach bug. 

FICTION According to Lisa Conti, a former veterinarian and Director of the Division of Environmental Health at the Florida Department of Health, “dogs have bacteria around their mouths you don’t want on your face.” An average of about 200,000 Americans get stomach flu after ingesting a common bacteria found on pets called campylobacter. 

Kitty litter can cause allergies in humans. 

NO CLEAR ANSWER  While some people may have reactions to some of the ingredients used in their kitty’s litter, there is no clear answer yet as to whether the litter is actually causing any health problems in humans. According to the CDC, it is possible for humans to contract toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by a single-celled parasite that pregnant women should be cautious about. “You can contract this parasite by cleaning a cat’s litter box when the cat has shed Toxoplasma in its feces.” However, most cases are rare and a healthy person’s immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness. Dr. Andrew Weil, who founded the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and has a skincare line with Origins, suggests switching to litters that are made of wheat or corn and contain no sodium bentonite. “When disposing of used litter of any type, you can reduce your own exposure to dust by slipping the litter into a large plastic bag before up-ending it.” 

Pet dander is harmful to humans. 

FACT It has proved to be uncommon, but pet dander can affect your lungs. So, what is pet dander exactly? The ASPCA states that it is “scales of old skin that are constantly shed by an animal.” According to the Ear, Nose & Throat Institute, “not only can pet dander cause itchy eyes and a runny nose, but pet dander can potentially be harmful to your respiratory system.” Pet dander can also lead to a decline in the ability of your lungs to function, according to the American Lung Association. Some quick fixes to the problem are vacuuming often, getting rid of carpets in your home and washing your pet on a regular basis. 

My pet cannot get an infection from drinking from the toilet. 

FICTION According to UF Health Medical Care Health Encyclopedia regarding pets and the immunocompromised person, you should not let your pet drink from the toilet. Several types of infections and bacteria can be spread this way. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says, “even in the cleanest of households, the toilet is still a breeding ground for bacteria and germs that could potentially make your pet sick. Gastrointestinal upset could result from stagnant, bacteria-filled toilet water.” 

Pet bites can transmit an infection to humans. 

FACT According to the UF Health Medical Care Health Encyclopedia article on animal bites, “cat bites are less common, but have a higher risk of infection. Cat teeth are longer and sharper, which cause deeper puncture wounds.” There are plenty of different types of infections that you can get from a pet bite, depending on what the animal may be carrying. Bites that result in puncture wounds are the most likely to become infected. While dog bites are more common, the pose a less threat to humans because house dogs are less likely to carry infections and their teeth tend to not be as sharp as cats. According to the website, you should teach your children not to approach strange animals and do not provoke or tease animals as this could aggravate them and cause them to bite. 

It is possible to get rabies from your pet. 

FACT  While it is uncommon for pet owners to contract rabies from their pet, it is possible. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to prevent your pet (and yourself) from getting rabies is to “visit your veterinarian with your pet on a regular basis and keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all cats, ferrets and dogs.” They also recommend calling animal control “to remove all stray animals from your neighborhood since these animals may be unvaccinated or ill.” You can’t tell an animal has rabies by looking at it, however if you see an animal on the street that is acting strange (foaming at the mouth, drooling excessively or even acting out of context) call your local animal control officer for help. The number for the Alachua County Animal Services is (352) 264-6870.


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