You should know that there are many zoonotic diseases present within our environment, just as there are many disease pathogens from humans and pets. Fortunately most of us will never come into contact with zoonotic diseases in our lifetime. And if our pets are properly vaccinated, our pets will be safe too.
What is a zoonotic disease?
A zoonotic disease or condition is one that is transmitted to humans from an infected lower form of vertebrate. Most of these diseases run their course, or are treated using over-the-counter medications – but there are a few that can be fatal, if left untreated.
Examples of potentially fatal zoonotic diseases are rabies and Baylisascaris procyonis — better known as raccoon roundworm. These zoonotic diseases rarely affect humans. In fact, fatalities are almost nonexistent with rabies today (more people die from jellyfish stings), because even if someone is exposed, they recognize the need for treatment, and receive it in a timely manner. Similarly, there have been very few recorded cases of raccoon roundworm, and those were due to the actual ingestion of feces.
Note: I will include Leptospirosis, Lyme Disease, Salmonellosis, Raccoon Roundworm, West Nile Virus, and Ringworm in this 4-part blog. Rabies was the topic of a prior blog, so it will not be revisited in this blog. Other zoonotic diseases exist, but I will not cover them in this 4-part blog.
How are the zoonotic diseases transmitted to humans?
Zoonotic diseases have a life cycle which begins with a disease agent that requires a natural habitat in order to survive. Just as with human and pet illnesses, a disease agent is a virus, bacteria, fungus, or parasite (tapeworm). A disease agent’s habitat can be animate as in your dog or cat (if not properly vaccinated), a bat, or white-tailed deer, or inanimate – as in wet straw – think of cleaning animal cages or stalls.
When the agent exits /escapes from its habitat, it is transmitted to us through contact, injection, inhalation, ingestion and sometimes it may require a way to survive outside its original habitat for a while, before it can get to its new host. This is achieved through a vehicle (an inanimate object – soil, air, water) or a vector (an animate object – raccoon, deer tick). Finally, the disease agent needs to gain access to the new host, perhaps through a break in the skin, ingestion or inhalation.
What you should know about zoonotic diseases?
As with human illnesses, prevention is the best approach. Much of what you should do involves common sense. How many times have you heard “Don’t put your fingers in your mouth or touch your food until you wash your hands?” Good personal hygiene is important for humanly transferred illnesses as well as zoonotic ones.
Make sure you vaccinate your pets – especially pets that spend time outdoors. They are normally curious and fun loving explorers or hunters, and can be exposed to elements that could potentially be harmful unless they are protected.
Another way to keep your pets safe is to ensure that they do not interact with wildlife. We receive many calls concerning orphaned and injured animals, and when we prevent these situations, we celebrate a small victory for wildlife – but, avoiding these encounters can help to insure the safety of your pets as well.
If your pet is bitten, use caution when attending to the wound. And always, contact your pet’s veterinarian to receive proper treatment in a timely manner.
If it becomes necessary to interact with wildlife, protect yourself – wear protective gear. Depending upon the situation, protective gear can include long sleeve clothing, closed toe shoes, gloves, goggles, and more.
Special thanks to the Connecticut Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (CWRA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for content included in this blog.