PETS & VETS: How to avoid catching zoonotic diseases

With Katie Love from St Vincents Veterinary Surgery, Wokingham

Dog in water
Katie Love

A concern we often hear from our clients is “Can I catch this disease from my dog/cat?” 

So we thought we would have a look at the most common infectious diseases that can be passed between humans and their pets.  These are otherwise known as zoonotic diseases. 

Humans that are most likely to catch zoonotic diseases are those that are immunocompromised. 

Immunocompromised means that your immune system is not working as well as it should. 

You are more likely to be immunocompromised if you are very young, old, pregnant, recovering from other serious illnesses, or undergoing chemotherapy.

One of the most common questions people ask us is “can I catch parasites from my pet?” 

The answer unfortunately is yes you can. 

We can pick up worms if we ingest microscopic eggs shed by dogs and cats in their faeces. 

Eggs can in fact survive in the soil for years. 

Toxocara canis is a common roundworm in dogs which can infect humans.  Signs in humans can vary from a cough, temperature, headache, stomach pain but can be more serious and can affect the eyes. 

There are also another few nasty bacteria or cellular parasites that we can catch from our pet’s faeces including Giardia, E. Coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella.  These bugs can cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea.

 Infections can be prevented by ensuring good hand hygiene if there has been any handling of animal faeces or contaminated soil.  Please also ensure that you worm your dog regularly and pick up your dog’s faeces.

Another cellular parasite which is of particular concern to pregnant women is Toxoplasmosis.  Toxoplasmosis is very rare. 

It is estimated that only one in 10,000 babies are born with Toxoplasmosis in the UK every year.  However, the consequences of infection are very serious including miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects. 

Many different species are affected by Toxoplasmosis but it is cats that are the primary hosts that spread the disease.  We can pick up the infection from our cats by handling cat faeces or litter trays.  

Care must also be taken when gardening, eating unwashed fruit and vegetables or eating under cooked meat.

 If you are concerned about the risk of Toxoplasmosis then please speak to your doctor or midwife. 

There are also a few skin diseases that can be caught from dogs and cats. 

One of the more common diseases is ringworm.  Ringworm is not actually a worm but a fungal infection of the skin and it can affect many different species.

It usually causes patches of hair loss and scaling. Humans may see circular red patches on their skin. 

There are also a few mites that humans can catch from animals including Sarcoptes scabei, otherwise known as fox mange or the Cheyletiella mite or “walking dandruff”. 

All of these conditions are treatable but it is always worth a visit to the doctor or vet if you ever notice any skin lesions. 

Another disease that it is possible to catch from our dogs (although very rare) is Weil’s disease or leptospirosis.  Humans and dogs more commonly catch leptospirosis from dirty water contaminated by rat’s urine.

 This disease can be life threatening and can cause kidney and liver failure.

To prevent our dogs becoming infected, we would recommend vaccinating your dogs against leptospirosis. 

If you are worried about any of these diseases please feel free to give us a call for advice. As always we are very happy to help. 


Katie Love is a veterinary surgeon at St Vincents Veterinary Surgery, an independent practice offering personal care for all your pets. Katie has a keen interest in feline medicine and can be contacted at the surgery if you have any concerns about your pet’s health. For more details, call  0118 979 3200 or visit to find out more about the practice.

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