With spring in the air, there’s no better time to make sure your pets are current on their immunizations and medications, particularly if they spend time outdoors, advised Dr. Erin Washburn, a pediatrician with Novant Health Randolph Pediatrics in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Many pets can get diseases carried by fleas or exposure to other pets that are sick and then pass them along to family members. Here a few common sicknesses pets can spread to people:

Cat scratch fever

Cat scratch fever is more than a well-known song by rocker Ted Nugent. It is a bacterial disease that people can catch from their pet kitty.

Also known as bartonellosis, cat scratch fever usually occurs after a scratch or bite from a cat causing a mild infection where the wound occurred. Most often it causes flu-like symptoms, including swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, fatigue and diminished appetite.

About 40 percent of cats carry the bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s more prevalent in kittens than adult cats – and they’re more likely to scratch and bite when playing.

Since the disease is transmitted from cat to cat by fleas, take steps to control fleas on your pets and in your house. Don’t let your cat lick any open wounds you may have and wash cat scratches right away with soap and water.

We don’t see a lot of patients getting sick from their home pets,” Washburn said. “Sometimes we see children after they’ve been bitten and need antibiotics to protect them from the bacteria in the animal’s mouth. I have only seen a handful of cat scratch cases.”


Zoonotic illnesses are diseases that pets can pass on to their owners. Some can be more dangerous than others to human beings, particularly people with compromised immune systems.

Rabies, for instance, is fatal if it isn’t treated. Rabies is a virus that is most often transmitted by a rabid animal bite. Although your dog or cat can spread rabies, it is most often spread by wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes, according to the CDC.

Rabies attacks the nervous symptoms. Early symptoms are often flu-like with fever and headache. As the disease progresses, symptoms might include anxiety, insomnia, confusion and hypersalivation. The CDC warns that death usually occurs within days of these latter symptoms.

To protect yourself and your pet, make sure your pet is current on its rabies vaccine. Keep your pet away from wild animals and don’t try to remove wild animals yourself from your home environment. Call animal control.

People who may have been exposed to rabies through a wild animal bite will receive a series of rabies vaccine shots. Every year approximately 40,000 Americans are treated will receive the rabies prevention treatment, according to the CDC.


Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a common parasite. More than 60 million people in the U.S. carry the parasite and aren’t sick, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, pregnant women who contract the parasite can pass it along to their babies, and in severe cases, it can cause birth defects.

One of the ways that the parasite is transmitted is through cat feces, which is why pregnant women are warned not to clean cat litter boxes. People can also come into contact with the parasite when gardening and not properly washing their hands after handling dirt.

Now that doesn’t mean you have to get rid of Felix. If you have to change the cat box, wear disposable gloves and then wash your hands afterward. Don’t let your cat go outside, says the CDC. The infection in the cat will only last a short time so it won’t be able to spread it after a few weeks.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease can’t be transmitted to people directly from their pets but people can get Lyme disease from the ticks a dog or outdoor cat picks up. Ticks carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.

Signs that a person may have been exposed to Lyme disease after a tick bit include a red rash that looks like a bull’s-eye. Initially, symptoms are fatigue, chills, fever, joint pain and swollen glands, according to the CDC.

Later, people may show symptoms of Bell’s palsy, a loss of muscle tone on the face, severe headaches and painful swelling of the joints.

If untreated, the CDC estimates that 60 percent of people exposed to Lyme disease will develop arthritis. Fortunately, if treated promptly with antibiotics, people can make a full recovery.

Each year, approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed. The vast majority or 95 percent of confirmed cases are concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest.

To reduce your risk from tick bites, get veterinarian-approved tick medicines for your dog. If you go hiking, cover your arms and legs with long pants and shirts and spray on an insect repellant. 

Hookworm and roundworm

Hookworm and roundworm are common intestinal parasites in puppies and kittens. Pets will pass the worms’ larvae through their feces and people can pick them up through skin contact by walking outside barefoot.

Symptoms include itchiness and rash from where larvae entered the skin. The parasites can cause abdominal cramping, nausea, fever, weight loss and anemia. Doctors can prescribe medications that will kill the parasites. To prevent the problem from spreading from your pet to you, have your kittens and puppies dewormed by a vet.


Ringworm is not actually a worm, but a fungal infection that is common in children. People can transmit the contagious infection from one to another by touching infected items, but they can also get it from pets. Cats in particular can spread ringworm , according to the NIH.

Ringworm manifests itself in itchy red, scaly patches that can ooze at the affected area. People can treat ringworm with over-the-counter anti-fungal medications but may need to see a doctor for antibiotics to treat skin infections arising from ringworm. If you see skin lesions on your pet, take him to the vet. Make sure to wash sheets, clothes and anything that came in contact with the infected person or pet.

Should you worry?

Pets can share all sorts of illnesses with their owners, including poison ivy and pink eye, but they cannot spread diseases like feline leukemia, canine influenza and feline herpes.

Plus, having a pet has been proven in numerous studies to improve owners’ health.

Take the recommended precautions to safeguard your family against pet diseases and keep your pet – and home – healthy and happy.