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Zoonotic Diseases: Common Examples & Prevention Tips

Zoonotic Diseases: Common Examples & Prevention Tips

What Is a Zoonotic Disease?

Zoonotic diseases, or zoonoses, are diseases or infections that can be transmitted from animals to humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tens of thousands of Americans get sick every year from diseases spread between animals and people. 

While anyone can become sick from a zoonotic disease, certain people are at increased risk, including people with weakened immune systems, children under 5, and adults over 65. People with zoonotic diseases will experience different symptoms, depending on the disease. Some people may not show any signs of illness, while others experience diarrhea, fever, or muscle aches.

How Zoonotic Diseases Spread

Many people come into close contact with animals on a regular basis. Some people work with animals every day, such as animals on a farm or in a zoo. Many people have pets at home or they have friends or family who have a dog or cat. These animals can carry harmful germs that can be shared with people, causing the spread of disease or infection. 

Zoonotic diseases can range from mild to life-threatening, and they can even cause death. They are caused by a virus, fungus, bacteria, or parasite. Zoonotic diseases are quite common. In fact, scientists estimate more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people are spread from animals.

Germs can spread from animals to people in numerous different ways. The CDC outlines four common ways

• Direct Contact: Harmful germs can spread when people come into direct contact with an infected animal’s saliva, urine, blood, feces, or other bodily fluids. The transfer of germs can occur through petting or touching animals or through animal bites and scratches.

• Indirect Contact: Germs can also spread if people come into contact with surfaces or objects that have been contaminated by an infected animal. Common examples include pet food and water dishes, plants and soil, fish tanks, chicken coops, and pet kennels.

• Vector-Borne: Vectors are living organisms that transmit diseases from animals to humans. The World Health Organization points out that many of these vectors are bloodsucking insects that ingest disease-producing microorganisms from an infected host and then inject it into a new host. The best-known disease vector is the mosquito. Other vectors include flies, fleas, and ticks.

• Foodborne: Foodborne illness is caused by food that is contaminated with viruses, parasites, bacteria, or toxins. These illnesses can be caused by improper food handling, contaminated animal food products, and inadequate cooking. Examples include eating undercooked meat or eggs, drinking unpasteurized milk, or eating raw vegetables and fruits that are contaminated with feces from an infected animal.

Examples of Common Zoonotic Diseases

There are hundreds of different zoonotic diseases, but many of them are rare. Here are some common examples of zoonotic diseases:

• Anthrax

• Bird flu

• Bovine tuberculosis

• Brucellosis

• Campylobacter infection

• Cat scratch fever

• Ebola

• Lyme Disease

• Malaria

• Psittacosis

• Rabies

• Ringworm

• Rocky Mountain spotted fever

• Salmonella and E. coli infections

• Swine flu

• Toxoplasmosis

• West Nile virus

• Zika fever

Zoonotic Diseases from Dogs

Fortunately, current evidence shows that dogs pose a minimal risk of spreading zoonotic diseases to humans. Here is a list of the most common zoonotic diseases of dogs.

Campylobacter infection

Cryptosporidium infection

• Giardia infection

• Hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms

• Leptospirosis

• Lyme disease

• Rabies

• Ringworm

• Salmonellosis

• Scabies

Zoonotic Diseases from Cats

Similar to dogs, current evidence shows that cats pose a minimal risk of spreading zoonotic diseases to humans. Here is a list of the most common zoonotic diseases of cats.

Campylobacter infection

• Cat scratch disease

Cryptosporidium infection

• Giardia infection

• Hookworms and roundworms

• Rabies

• Ringworm

• Salmonellosis

• Toxoplasmosis

How to Prevent the Spread of Zoonotic Diseases

There are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from zoonotic diseases. Follow these precautions to reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases:

• One of the most important steps you can take to avoid spreading germs is washing your hands with soap and water immediately after being around animals.

• Avoid coming into contact with animal feces.

• Pets that are showing signs of illness or disease should be examined by a veterinarian.

• Don't share food utensils with your pet.

• Properly and promptly dispose of your pet’s poop, and always wash your hands after handling animal waste.

• Clean your cat’s litter box daily and thoroughly wash your hands afterward. Wash the litter box with soap and water on a regular basis.

• Wear gloves while gardening and working in any area where an animal may have defecated or urinated.

• Take the appropriate steps to protect your pet from parasites. This includes flea and tick control, as well as using a dewormer product on a regular basis.

• Prevent bites from mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks by using bug spray, wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts, and avoiding wooded areas.

• To reduce the risk of spreading disease through contaminated food, you should always follow proper food-handling procedures. This includes ensuring food is always cooked properly and keeping food preparation areas clean.

• Although it’s not always preventable, try to avoid bites and scratches from animals.


The materials and information provided on this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your veterinarian or other pet healthcare professional. Consult your own veterinarian if you have medical questions concerning diagnosis, treatment, therapy, or medical attention.

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