The term “zoonotic” is something you might have heard before, as more cases of zoonotic illnesses have been reported over the past decade. Probably the most well known zoonotic illness is rabies. More recently, the spread of leptospirosis has garnered the attention of pet owners and has put a spotlight on illnesses that can be spread from pets to people.

Because zoonotic illnesses are something that will never be totally eradicated, it’s important to understand what these diseases are and how you can protect you and your family members, including your four-legged ones.

Zoonotic Illness

A zoonotic illness is a disease or infection that can be transmitted to humans from animals. While we share close quarters with our pets (and many of you confess to kissing your pet, too!), your chance of getting an illness from your four-legged is pretty rare. However, the risk does exist, and not just with cats and dogs. You can also get certain illnesses from livestock, reptiles, birds, rabbits, and other exotic/pocket pets.

Despite the rarity of these diseases, some of them can be fatal if transferred to you or another human family member. Getting to know what zoonoses are and the more common ones that affect our pets is a good way to prevent illness and protect animals and people alike.

Common Zoonotic Diseases

Among canines, an alarming illness that has been on the rise is leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a bacterial illness found in water and soil, where affected bacteria thrive. Leptospira can be picked up by your dog and can be transferred to you via contact with urine. Areas with high densities of rats have also reported this disease in dogs (and humans, in limited cases).

Along with leptospirosis, giardia is another water-borne illness that affects both pets and people and has been on the rise among these populations.

Other zoonotic diseases among dogs include:

  • Lyme disease
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Mange
  • Ringworm
  • Salmonellosis
  • Intestinal worms (hookworms, roundworms)

Among cats:

  • Salmonellosis
  • Intestinal worms
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Giardia
  • Campylobacter
  • Cryptosporidium

Reptiles carry salmonella, botulism, campylobacteriosis, and chlamydiosis (psittacosis). Salmonella can be found among birds.


Fortunately, with good hygiene and adhering to recommendations from your vet, you and your fur pal may never encounter any of these illnesses.

  1. Stay up to date on your pet’s vaccines. This includes noncore vaccines that may be relevant because of lifestyle or other factors that increase risk of exposure.
  2. Keep your pet on parasite prevention. Year-round flea, tick, and heartworm medication is essential to preventing parasitic illnesses like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
  3. Practice good hygiene. Always wash your hands after interacting with your pet or other animals, as well as after changing litter. Teach your children to do the same.
  4. Scoop the poop. Often!
  5. Prevent your pet from drinking contaminated water. Discourage your pet from drinking from communal water bowls at parks, as well as puddles, ditches, and stagnant water.
  6. Have your pet screened for common illnesses and parasites. Maintain your pet’s annual wellness exams to ensure good health.

For more information about zoonotic illness and your pet, please contact the team at Leon Valley Veterinary Hospital.