It's a question that occurs to most pet owners when they are sick or feeling unwell- can your pets catch your illness, or on the flip side, could you catch an illness from your pet?
Generally speaking, human to animal or animal to human transmission of diseases and illness are fairly uncommon, as pets and people have very different immune systems, and a different genetic make up and anatomy. In the main part, the chance of passing illnesses and conditions back and forth between pet and person is unlikely.
There are a few exceptions to this generalised rule, however, and certain conditions can be passed from human to animal and back. Such conditions are known as ‘zoonotic diseases’ or zoonosis. Do you want to find out more about what kinds of illnesses and ailments can be transmitted between you and your pet- and which ones can’t? Read on to find out more!
A zoonosis or zoonotic disease is any illness, condition or ailment which can be given to a person by an animal or vice versa. Various different types of animals, both domesticated and wild, can pass illnesses between species; for instance monkeys and apes, which are similar in many ways to humans in terms of their genetic make up and physiology, can transmit several different types of illness to people. However, the incidence rate of very different animals, such as dogs, cats and domestic pets- the types of animals which you are most likely to come into contact with on a daily basis- have a much smaller range of potential pathogens which can cross the animal-human divide. As your domestic pets are the animals which you spend most of your time around, these are the types of animals which we will be looking at in this article.
The most commonly asked question when considering pet to person illness transmission is, can pets and people share coughs and colds? The answer to this question is an almost unanimous ‘no.’ Cough and cold viruses are species- specific, and animals and people have very different immune systems, meaning that any viral infection which affects a person is unlikely to attack the immune system of their pet in the same way. So if you’re worried about cuddling up to your cat or dog when you have a cold or the flu, don’t be- they are safe. Similarly, people cannot catch pet coughs and colds, including the virulent and debilitating kennel cough virus- so don’t worry.
Generally speaking, transmitting an illness between people and pets is unlikely. Your immediate family and friends are much more likely to contract the same infectious condition as you have than any of your furry friends are. Similarly, if your cat or dog is sick, another household pet of the same species may come down with the same condition, whereas people are unlikely to, even if the theoretical possibility of infection exists.
So what common illnesses and conditions could potentially be passed between you and your pet? Here are the top ten within the UK, in no particular order.
Contracting or transmitting any condition between yourself and your animals is relatively unlikely, even if the conditions for potential infection are optimum. But there are several ways in which you can further reduce the risk.
Finally, don’t get hung up on the potential risk of contracting or passing on an illness to or from your pets. Pregnant women, young children and those with compromised immune systems may need to pay special attention to their interactions with animals, but as a general rule, just be sensible about the way you care for and handle your pets, and the risks will be kept to a minimum.