How Can Your Pet Make You Sick?

Updated on July 15, 2019
Leonard Tillerman profile image

Leonard is a former teacher and principal who has also been a writer for the past two decades. Writing and animals are his true loves.

How your pet can make you sick!
How your pet can make you sick!

Can You Get Sick From a Pet?

There can be little doubt that people love their pets. This can be seen every single day as owners and their pets are observed playing and being affectionate with one another. It can also be measured by the sheer amount of money that people spend on their pets. The pet industry is a huge market in the United States and Worldwide. Indeed, in America alone, statistics from the American Pet Product Association (APPA) puts total pet expenditures at 66.75 billion dollars in 2016 with that number expected to explode to 69.36 in 2017!

However, while pets may be very important parts of our lives, did you know that your pet can also make you sick? This is most likely something which most pet owners rarely consider. How could their beloved companion actually harm their health? In reality, it depends on the pet and the precautions an owner chooses to take. Nevertheless, listed below are seven ways your pet can make you sick.

1. Allergies and Asthma

While there are a plethora of different types of pets to have, most people still own a dog or cat. These popular companions are actually much harder to take care of than other pet types. Also, they are unfortunately the cause of allergic reactions and worsening asthma conditions for many pet owners. Not only does their fur contain a number of allergens, but their dander can severely worsen allergic reactions and actually set off an asthma attack. If this is not bad enough, urine and saliva can literally take an owner's breath away. Contributing to allergies and asthma is one surefire way your pet can make you sick.

2. Stomach Problems

If you are a pet lover, the odds are that you enjoy getting close and cuddly with your little buddy. This can take the form of cute nose nuzzling to full-out slobbery kisses. However, these are exactly the type of actions which can lead to stomach problems and make you sick.

  • According to the Florida Department of Health, each year more than 200,000 Americans catch the stomach flu after ingesting Campylobacter, which is a common bacterium found on the back ends of cats and dogs.
  • As if that was not bad enough, your pet can also contract Giardia from drinking tainted water and then pass it along to you. This will, in turn, lead to severe cramping and diarrhea.
  • Lastly, all types of pets, particularly reptiles and amphibians, can pass along salmonella, which can lead to death if not treated properly and quickly. Creating stomach problems is definitely a way your pet can make you sick!

3. Skin Conditions

Anyone who has battled a skin condition can tell you that it is serious business. Not only can it be itchy and irritating, it can create searing pain and cause embarrassment and loss of much-needed self-confidence.

Unfortunately, pets are known to pass on certain skin conditions to their human owners. Two of the most common skin conditions which can be transferred are ringworm and scabies. Ringworm is a fungus and scabies is a rash caused by mites. Pets can even pass on a very dangerous staph infection. All of these skin conditions can be transmitted when a human comes into contact with germs, bacteria, or viruses which their beloved pet is carrying. Transmission can occur by such a simple and innocent activity as petting your dog or cat! Passing on serious skin conditions is a very real way your pet can make you sick.

Passing on parasites or serious skin conditions are very real ways that your pet can make you sick.
Passing on parasites or serious skin conditions are very real ways that your pet can make you sick.

4. Parasites

While parasites are often associated with skin conditions, they are not the same thing. Your pet, whether it be a dog, cat, rat, or gerbil, can be a breeding ground for gruesome parasites.

  • Ticks and fleas are some of the more common parasites which can become a problem for pets and owners alike. Both of these parasites will attach themselves to the pet and possibly seek out a human host as well. Also, they are more than just an annoyance.
  • Certain types of ticks can lead to very serious conditions such as Lyme Disease. Also, did you know fleas can carry the Bubonic plague?
  • Even more gruesome than this is hookworm. This is transmitted to people through eggs and larvae found in dirt contaminated by feces. These parasitic larvae will enter your skin and travel through the bloodstream and into the lungs. This leads to serious lung and small intestine issues. This can be passed on by such a simple activity as Fido walking through contaminated soil and bringing it home on his paws.

There can be little doubt that passing on parasites is another way your pet can make you sick.

5. Cat Scratch Disease

Anyone who has ever owned a cat knows that getting the occasional scratch or two is all part of the journey. Your cute little kitty will sometimes scratch you by accident or instinct, or she may just be in a foul mood. No harm done. However, there are instances when a lot of harm can be done from this scratch.

This can happen when a cat or kitten who is carrying a bacterium called Bartonella henselae scratches or bites a person hard enough to break the skin. This will allow the bacterium to pass the protective layer of the skin and enter the bloodstream, thus leading to an infection. The individual will often develop swollen lymph nodes and lesions, as well as come down with a fever, headache, and pure exhaustion. Since about 40% of cats carry this bacterium at some point in their lives, it is a very real danger and certainly a way your pet can make you sick.

Over 40% of cats carry the bacterium leading to cat scratch disease.

6. Parrot Fever

Birds have become a very popular pet. They are known as a relatively easy pets to take care of and are constantly bathing, cleaning, and preening themselves. Considering this, it may come as quite a surprise to bird lovers that they are known to spread an infection which is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci. This bacterial illness can result from contact with infected bird feces or even the dust which builds up in cages. For those working in pet stores, zoos, or poultry farms, it can be a real occupational hazard. For pet owners, it can be a source of potential sickness as well. The bacterium has the potential to infect canaries, parakeets, and parrots. It can lead to high fever, respiratory issues, and muscle aches. Parrot fever is certainly another way that your pet can make you sick.

Parrot fever is a occupational work hazard for some and another way your pet can make you sick.
Parrot fever is a occupational work hazard for some and another way your pet can make you sick.

7. Pet Bites and Rabies

The conditions which have been outlined up until this point are quite serious and disturbing. However, they do not tend to be fatal in the vast majority of cases. There are conditions that if passed onto human pet owners can be life-threatening and quite fatal for human pet owners. One such infection is rabies. While there may be vaccinations which prevent this in our pets for the most parts, in some areas of the world this is not the case. If our pet comes into contact with a wild animal with rabies, it can then pass along the virus to humans. The death rate of humans who contract rabies is exceptionally high.

Two further conditions which can arise from bites or another route of innoculation from our beloved pet is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and Tetanus. With MRSA, the owner can develop skin and lung conditions. If MRSA spreads to the bloodstream or lungs, it can be fatal. Tetanus, on the other hand, has the ability to cause paralysis in humans. Nasty stuff. All the above are quite scary and unfortunate ways that your pet can make you sick.


The above is certainly not intended to scare people away from the wonderful world of pet ownership. It is, instead, designed to warn people to take proper precautions with themselves and their pets. Proper hygiene such as washing your hands after handling your pet and obviously not exchanging body fluids through licking or "kisses," are two simple precautions to take in order not to end up sick. Also, a thorough check of your pet after they have been outside to make sure they have not picked up any "passengers" is always in order, as is cleaning their paws before they come in the house. Simple preventative and proactive measures will go a long way in ensuring your pet does not make you sick. It should also be mentioned that pets have the great ability to improve your health as well. Everything is all about balance.

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1. Pet Industry Market Size and Ownership Statistics. American Pet Product Association (APPA)

2. Pet Allergies. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.

3. Is your pet making you sick? Catherine Guthrie. Oprah Magazine.

4. 5 Skin conditions dogs can pass onto humans. Dog Guide

5. Hookworm Infections. Healthline.

6. Cat-Scratch Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

7. Parrot Fever. Medscape

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers


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      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        2 years ago from Houston, Texas

        It is good to be aware of this and take precautions but I (should say we) love our pets. They add so much to the quality of our lives. It would be lonely without them and we would miss many smiles each day that they stimulate with their cute actions.

      • Coffeequeeen profile image

        Louise Powles 

        2 years ago from Norfolk, England

        Well, it was certainly interesting reading your article. I had no idea you could catch any of these illnesses and symptoms from your pets. I've got a dog, but thankfully he's not made me ill yet.


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