Zoonotic Diseases: The Shared Threat

Owning a pet can be a wonderful, rewarding experience for you and your family. However, pets can transmit diseases that may be harmful to humans, especially young children and people with certain medical conditions. These are called zoonotic diseases or zoonoses (pronounced zoo-NO-sees).

What are zoonotic diseases?

“Early detection of disease is a critical factor in saving lives and protecting the health of both pets and their owners,” says AVMA President Henry E. Childers, DVM, DABPV. “More frequent visits with a veterinarian make for better diagnosis, treatment and, ideally, prevention of zoonotic diseases and other health problems before they become life threatening.”

Zoonotic diseases that affect people.

Cat scratch disease – Also known as cat scratch fever, this flea-borne infection is typically transmitted from a cat’s scratch or bite. Signs include pimples at the scratch site and swollen lymph nodes that may persist for six weeks or longer.

Ehrlichiosis – Transmitted by ticks, this bacterial disease can cause fever, muscle aches, vomiting and other, more serious symptoms. As many as half of all patients require hospitalization.

Giardia – People and pets are infected when they drink water containing the parasite Giardia Iamblia. You can also become infected by putting something in your mouth that has come into contact with a pet’s stool. Signs include diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea.

Leptospirosis – Lepto is a bacterial disease spread by contact with urine from an infected animal, including dogs, raccoons, squirrels and skunks. “Dogs don’t have to exhibit clinical signs of the disease or test positive for lepto to shed the disease-causing leptospires in their urine,” says Kenneth Harkin, DVM, DACVIM, Kansas State University. “This places pet owners at risk if they come into contact with the urine.” Lepto can cause high fever, severe headache, vomiting and, if left untreated, kidney damage or liver failure.

Lyme disease – Spread by ticks, Lyme disease can cause arthritis and kidney damage in both people and dogs. The number of Lyme disease cases has nearly tripled since 1990, and the disease is now found in every state. “The disease is certainly spreading, and it seems to be moving faster than originally anticipated,” says Steven A. Levy, VMD, a nationally known expert on Lyme disease in dogs.

Rabies – This well-known disease is caused by a virus found in the saliva of infected animals and transmitted to pets and people by bites. It is invariably fatal if not promptly treated.

Ringworm – Ringworm is a fungal infection – not a worm – transmitted by contact with the skin or fur of an infected dog or cat. Signs include a bald patch of scaly skin on the scalp, or a ring-shaped, itchy rash on the skin.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever – A very serious, tick-borne disease that causes fever, headache and muscle pain, followed by a rash. May be fatal if left untreated.

Toxoplasmosis – This is a parasitic disease spread by contact with cat feces in soil or litter, although the major route to transmission is contaminated meat. It can cause serious health problems in pregnant women or in people with compromised immune systems.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and Fort Dodge Animal Health have announced the start of a new educational initiative designed to raise consumer awareness about preventing these and other diseases that can be spread from pets, and other animals, to people, as well as those that can infect both people and pets. The initiative is part of National Pet Wellness Month, a clinic-centered educational campaign co-sponsored by the AVMA and Fort Dodge Animal Health. More information can be found at www.npwm.com. See our Special Features section for more on how to protect your family and your pet from zoonotic diseases.

About Fort Dodge Animal Health

Fort Dodge Animal Health, a division of Wyeth (NYSE: WYE), is a leading manufacturer and distributor of animal health care products for the companion animal, equine, livestock, swine and poultry industries in North America and international markets. As a committed partner to veterinary practitioners, producers and pet owners worldwide, Fort Dodge Animal Health is making a difference in the future of animal health through innovative research and product development that adressess current and emerging animal health needs. Key products include West Nile-Innovator® and the Innovator® combination vaccines, Duramune®Adult, the Fel-O-Vax® vaccine line, CYDECTIN® Pour-on, the Pyramid® vaccine line, QUEST® Gel and EtoGesic® Tablets. For more information, please contact your Fort Dodge Animal Health representative or call 1-800-477-1365.

About National Pet Wellness Month

National Pet Wellness Month (NPWM) is a clinic-centered educational initiative designed to raise consumer awareness about the pet aging process, disease prevention and the importance of twice-a-year wellness exams for all cats and dogs. Sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association and Fort Dodge Animal Health, NPWM started in October 2004 and is a year-round campaign where pet owners can receive valuable wellness and prevention information, tailored to their pets, from their personal veterinarian. For information about pet wellness and disease prevention, visit www.npwm.com.


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