Whether you’re a dog person, a cat person, or a slightly off-kilter reptile person, pets are a great source of emotional support, friendship, and loyalty. However, don’t let those adorable faces fool you—your pets may be infecting you with serious illnesses.
Chances are that Fido isn’t deliberately waging biological warfare on your immune system, but that doesn’t change the fact that animals frequently and unintentionally transmit diseases and parasites to their human owners. Here’s a look at everything you didn’t want to know about the sometimes-terrifying conditions you can catch from your pets.
Everyone knows that cats are out to get their owners, but luckily they don’t have the power to do any serious damage, right? Wrong. Toxoplasmosis is a condition caused by a parasite found in cat feces that can lead to flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, excessive fatigue, and problems with lymph nodes. Fortunately, most people are able to fight off these parasites without any sign of trouble. However, pregnant women and others with compromised immune systems have a higher risk of becoming sick. Some researchers even believe that these parasites can lead to schizophrenia and other neurological disorders.
Ringworm, despite its name, is not caused by a worm at all—it’s actually a fungal infection. Regardless, it’s one of the most common conditions that pets spread to their owners. This fungus can live outside a host for some time, which means that even if you avoid touching an infected animal, it’s still possible to contract it if you’ve come in contact with the same surfaces as your sick friend. Most frequently, ringworm causes symptoms similar to athlete’s foot, but in severe cases, it can lead to blisters and scaly skin.
There are times when man’s best friend comes with some distinctly unfriendly parasites, namely hookworm. These microscopic menaces can be deadly when found in dogs, and while they’re not as severe in humans, they can still lead to symptoms such as bloody stool, rashes, and intestinal pain. Hookworm is most commonly transmitted from animals to humans through infected feces, so avoid walking barefoot around the areas where you dog does his business.
Psittacosis, also known as parrot fever, is a bacterial infection spread from birds to humans via infected feces. While it’s unlikely that you’ll be coming into direct contact with bird poop, as it dries, it’s possible for the offending bacteria to become airborne and inhaled. Like toxoplasmosis, the most common symptoms associated with psittacosis mimic the flu, but in more serious cases, it can lead to severe respiratory problems.
Nothing is more adorable than a roly-poly puppy or a curious kitten, and nothing is worse than developing severe diarrhea because of those little furballs. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens when your four-legged friend blesses you with the gift of the campylobacter bacteria. While animals of any age can contract this condition, it’s most commonly found in pets that are less than a year old. The animal symptoms of this infection are similar to those found in humans, so be sure to avoid contact with pets showing visible signs of intestinal distress. If you’re unlucky enough to catch the parasite yourself, be sure to stay well-hydrated and seek medical attention if your symptoms don’t clear up after a few days.