Zoonotic Diseases

It’s no surprise that I love animals. From the time that I was a little girl, I have loved animals and wanted to be around them every day. Other than my first job as a waitress, I have worked with animals and have shared a home with a lot them.  That being said, there are a few things I never want to share with my pets and those are zoonotic diseases. A zoonotic disease is a disease that can be transmitted between humans and animals. These diseases can come in the form of viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungal infections. Today’s blog will discuss several forms of zoonotic diseases, how they can be transmitted and treatment of these forms.


The word zoonosis comes from two Greek words: Zoion meaning animal and Nosos meaning diseases. Zoonoses have different modes of transmission. Direct zoonoses are just like it sounds. The disease comes directly from the animal to the person. This usually occurs through bites, saliva, or from the air. Vector zoonoses are transmitted by an intermediate species like fleas or ticks. Some zoonoses are not very common in Pennsylvania but it doesn’t mean we are completely safe from developing the disease. The Bubonic plague – which is transmitted through fleas – infects about 7 people each year in the United States! Leprosy in the United States mainly comes from armadillos but rabbits and mice have also been found carrying the bacteria that causes Leprosy. Infections and diseases are constantly adapting and morphing. Once only a certain species illness can mutate and infect other species over time. The avain and swine influenza viruses are perfect examples of mutated infections. Advances in vaccine and pharmaceutical technology and better hygiene practices have led to a decrease in the incidence and/or severity of numerous zoonotic diseases. As is in most cases, people with immature or weakened immune systems are more susceptible to zoonotic infections.




The most common fungal infection shared between people and domestic animals is Ringworm. Direct contact with fungal spores and infected hair pieces causes Ringworm to spread. Symptoms for animals with ringworm include dry, flaky skin and hair loss. Medical treatments for animals include: bathing with a special shampoo, topical antifungal ointments and possibly oral medications.




CAT-SCRATCH DISEASE – Bartonellosis is caused by bacteria that can infect both cats and humans. Cats that are allowed to go outside and cats with fleas are at a higher risk of transmitting the disease to humans through scratches and bites.


SALMONELLOSIS – Animals that are fed a raw diet or that catch mice and birds are susceptible to Salmonellosis. People who handle feces from affected animals can get Salmonesllosis.


RABIES – Rabies is a fatal viral disease that can affect all mammals including humans. Besides from rabies being transmitted through bites/ salvia and blood contact, rabies can possibly be transmitted through bat guano. There is no cure for rabies once the animal has become infected. The Rabies vaccine is the only way to prevent the disease. All states require up to date rabies vaccinations for all dogs and cats starting at 3 – 4 months of age.


LEPTOSPIROSIS – Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can be found in contaminated water and from rat and mouse urine. Dogs can show no symptoms of the disease. Both humans and dogs can develop the disease from contaminated areas and through urine and blood. Leptospirosis can cause liver and kidney failure.


STREP THROAT – Researches have found that people can infect their pets with strep throat. It is less likely people can get it from their pets. Keep from kissing, sharing food or letting your pet lick you when you are sick.




Diseases in this section cannot be spread from dogs to humans but it does indicate there are infected ticks in the environment that could transmit the disease to you, and strict tick control measures should be taken. Typically, the antibiotic Doxycycline is used for 30 days to treat infected dogs with tick borne diseases.


LYME DISEASE – The four most common species of ticks found in Pennsylvania can transmit Lyme Disease. Just like in humans, Lyme disease in dogs is a painful, multi-system disorder caused by bacteria. Lyme disease is a recurring condition that can strike again and again once it is contracted. It can take up until 2 -3 months after contracting the disease to show any signs. Over 90% of dogs don’t show symptoms of Lyme disease. Some symptoms include: inconsistent limping, swelling in the lymph nodes, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy.


ANAPLASMOSIS – causes lameness, joint pain, fever, lethargy, and not eating. Most infected dogs will have symptoms for 1 to 7 days; however, some will have no or only minor symptoms.


EHRLICHIA – Ehrlichia is a type of bacteria that infects the white blood cells of their hosts. There are three phases of the illness (acute, subclinical and chronic). The acute phase occurs 1 – 3 weeks after being bitten. This is generally a mild phase. This can be where the dog cannot be acting quite like themselves. In the subclinical phase, the dog appears to be normal and can stay in this phase for months to several years. In the chronic phase, up to 60% of dogs will have abnormal bleeding due to reduced platelet numbers.


ROCKY MOUNTAIN SPOTTED FEVER –  Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is an intracellular (inside cells) parasite. Clinical signs will show up 2-14 days after the bite occurred. Common symptoms include: fever, lethargy, inappetence, pain, eye/nose discharge (that can include nosebleed), cough, enlarged lymph nodes, lameness, skin necrosis/sloughing, and hemorrhages. Up to 1/3 of infected dogs will have central nervous system issues. Most cases occur in the southern Atlantic states (Delaware, and from Maryland to Florida) and obviously areas around the Rocky Mountains. If your dog travels to any of these areas, they can be at risk for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.




ROUNDWORMS – Roundworms are intestinal parasites that can be transmitted from a mother to her young, ingestion from a contaminated environment and affected animals. Children can also pick up roundworms from the environment.


HOOKWORMS – Hookworms are intestinal parasites that can be transmitted from a contaminated environment, larval skin penetration, ingestion of their eggs from contaminated items and from mothers to their young. People can also get hookworms if they come in contact with infected feces and environment with their bare hands or feet.


SARCOPTIC MANGE – Sarcoptic Mange is a skin disease caused by mites which burrow under the skin. Humans can be infected through contact with infected animals.




GIARDIA – Giardia is a single-celled organism that is most commonly transmitted through contaminated water. Dogs, cats and humans that come into contact with water can become infected with Giardia. Antibiotics are used to treat Giardia.


CRYPTOSPORIDIOSIS – Cryptosporidiosis shares a lot of similarities with Giardia. Cryptosporidiosis comes from contaminated water and causes diarrhea. Antibiotics are used to treat Cryptosporidiosis.


TOXOPLASMOSIS – Besides cat feces, people can get Toxoplasmosis from undercooked meat, unwashed vegetables and contaminated soil. Cats with suppressed immune systems like young kittens, FIV positive and feline leukemia positive cats are more likely to develop Toxoplasmosis. The most common symptoms of toxoplasmosis includes fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy. After diagnostic testing confirms Toxoplasmosis, treatment with antibiotics will continue for several days after signs disappear.




Common sense and basic hygiene practices can lower your risk of exposure to many of these zoonotic diseases.


  • Avoid unknown and un-vaccinated animals.
  • Clean up your pet’s waste as soon as they are done eliminating.
  • Wear gloves and wash your hands with soap and water after handling your pet’s waste.
  • Keep your pet(s) up to date on their vaccines.
  • Keep your pet(s) on year-round flea and tick preventatives.
  • Keep your home and yard clear of clutter and overgrown debris.


For more information, go to The National center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.


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