There are three main sources of zoonoses. These are wild animals, farm animals (including meat, egg and milk products), and household pets. Not all animals that have these diseases appear sick.
Different agents, including bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi, can cause zoonotic disease. Sometimes the agent that causes the disease is shed into the environment and can infect people even if there are no animals around. Sandboxes and dirty water are common sources of these types of infection.
It is always safest to avoid any wild animal. Even a healthy animal will attack if feeling threatened.
The next most important thing is to avoid any animal droppings. Like human droppings, all animal droppings could cause infections if not handled properly. Bird and mouse droppings also carry diseases that cause illness in people. Raccoon droppings can be especially dangerous.
If you must clean up droppings, wear gloves and a mask at all times. Try to stir up as little dust as possible. Like pet cats, many wild animals like to bury their droppings in soft ground, including sandboxes. A protective cover will help prevent animals from visiting the sandbox at night. It is also a good idea to wear gloves when working in the garden.
Many diseases affect farm animals as well as people. Anyone who is thinking of raising animals for food should learn more about these diseases before starting. Those who eat meat or eggs that are not properly cleaned and cooked, or drink untreated (unpasteurized) milk, are at greatest risk of getting a disease. Other diseases can be passed in barn dust, or from sheep or cattle that have blisters, raw wounds or bald spots.
Clean, healthy pets that receive regular veterinary care are rarely a source of disease. Still, it is important to use good hygiene when handling pets. This is especially true for young children and pregnant women.
Zoonotic diseases do not happen often. When they do, they are usually mild illnesses that your doctor can correct. Still, pay attention to the basic rules and teach your children the same safe habits. Just because a disease is rare does not mean that it cannot affect you and your family.
Name of Disease
How does it spread to humans?
Prevention / Treatment
|Cat scratch fever||Cats spread the disease to people but they do not get sick themselves.
It is rare.
|Uncommon reaction to cat licks, bites or scratches. Children are most commonly affected.||Usually causes swollen lymph nodes, tiredness, fever, irritation at site of wound. Rare form can have more serious complications.||Clean any wound caused by your cat. Teach the cat not to scratch. The disease often goes away on its own, but if it does not, antibiotics will treat it.|
|Dogs and cats, especially puppies and kittens. Common.||Eating or licking dirt, sand, fingers, or anything else contaminated with dog or cat droppings, or eating raw liver. Children are most commonly affected.||Signs are usually mild and can vary greatly. Signs include fever, belly pain, rash, vision loss, irritability and changes in behaviour.||Keep your yard clean of droppings. Cover the sandbox when not in use. Wear gloves when gardening. Deworm your pet regularly. Treatment varies with the problem.|
|Dogs that eat sheep, moose or caribou intestines or giblets.||Spreads the same way as roundworm. Children are most commonly affected.||Allergic reactions.
|Do not feed sheep, moose or caribou intestines or giblets to your pet. Deworm and clean up the droppings of high risk dogs.|
(tinea corporis – a fungal infection)
|Any mammal. Common.||Contact with animals suffering from ringworm. Rarely, cats can transmit ringworm without showing signs of it.||Red, itchy, scaly patches of skin with damaged or missing hair.||Have a vet examine any bald spots on your pet. Avoid contact with mangy looking animals. Condition can heal itself or treatment is available.|
|Brucellosis||Cow, sheep, goats or dogs. Rare in Canada.||Contact with untreated milk, urine, droppings, blood, placenta or sex organs. Most commonly affects farmers, vets and slaughterhouse workers.||Fever, chills, headache, weight loss. Sore joints, belly, heart, sex organs.||Boil or pasteurize all milk. Test breeding dogs. Avoid handling body fluids of untested animals.|
|Toxoplasmosis||Cats||Contact with cat droppings, raw pork, mutton, raw beef (rarely).||Swollen lymph nodes, rash, death or brain damage to unborn baby if woman infected during early pregnancy, serious disease in AIDS patients with a poor immune (defence) system.||Cook meat properly. Dangerous in pregnancy. Prevention is the same as for roundworm. Pregnant women should not clean litter box. Litter box should be cleaned every 24 hours.|
|Rabies||Any mammal (mostly raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes, bats).||Any bite or scratch from an affected animal.||Seek immediate treatment. Fever, headache, numbness at bite wound, convulsions, weakness, paralysis. Once symptoms appear, death usually follows in six days. May not show signs until months after infection.||Vaccinate your pet. Never touch wild animals. Immediately clean any bite wounds with soap and water. Report any animals that appear uncoordinated, confused or foaming at the mouth.|
|Hantavirus||The urine, saliva, or droppings of mice, rats and chipmunks, or dust contaminated by these. Very rare.||Inhaling dust that is contaminated by wild mouse droppings. Eating soiled food or water. No cases have come from pet rodents at this time.||Fever, sore muscles, shortness of breath, headaches. Fatal in half of cases.||Wear a mask and gloves when cleaning attics, cellars, garages. Wet down areas before cleaning mouse droppings.|
|Q Fever||Reproductive or birthing fluids from dogs, cats, goats, sheep, cattle||Handling the placenta and birthing fluids of affected animals (or dust contaminated by these fluids). Milk may carry the disease.||Chills, headache, weakness, sweats, death in one per cent of cases.||Pasteurize milk. Use clean habits near birthing animals. A vaccine is available for people with high risk jobs.|
|Psittacosis||Bird droppings (especially parakeets, parrots, love birds)||Inhaling bird droppings, feathers or contaminated dust.||Fever, headache, rash, chills, respiratory disease, inflammation of the heart or brain.||Antibiotics will help. Wear a mask and gloves when cleaning bird cages. Wet down area before cleaning.|
|Lyme disease||Ticks transmit disease from deer and wild rodents.||Being bitten by an infected tick.||Headache, muscle and joint pain, weakness of face muscles, bull’s eye skin rash at site of tick bite.||Check for and remove ticks promptly. Wear protective clothing. Check your pets for ticks and remove them.|
|Salmonellosis||Any mammal or bird (very common in raw chicken or eggs); pet reptiles (especially turtles).
||Contact with pet reptiles, dog or cat droppings, or undercooked chicken. This can happen, for example, by touching a turtle, then putting your fingers in your mouth.||Diarrhea, belly pain, nausea, fever, vomiting, dehydration. Children and people with HIV are more likely to get sick.||Antibiotics and fluid therapy will help treat the disease. Do not eat raw eggs or undercooked chicken. Wash hands after handling reptiles.|
|Baylisascaris||Commonly shed in raccoon droppings. Also in droppings of skunks, fishers, marmots, and martens||Contact with droppings from a raccoon or another infected animal.||Skin irritations, breathing discomfort, liver enlargement, fever, nausea, lethargy, loss of coordination or eyesight, circling and abnormal behaviour, seizures, coma, and death.||Treat contaminated surfaces with heat (blow torch, boiling water or steam). Bleaching helps but does not eliminate risk. Thorough hand washing is best preventive method. Some parasite medications can help, but not all stages of the disease are treatable.|