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What are Zoonoses? 

No, we're not talking about an elephant's trunk. Zoonoses are diseases that animals and people share – in the wild, on the farm or in your home. Although there is little risk of contracting a disease from animals in Alberta, it's still a good idea to know what to look for in your pet in order to avoid the spread of diseases from pets to humans.


The good news: Healthy climate, healthy pets, healthy people

Three factors prevent the transmission of diseases from animals to humans. In Alberta, we have all the resources to keep these factors working for us:

1. The climate and living conditions: The parasites and bugs that spread diseases don't thrive in moderate, dry climates like Alberta's. Also our population in Alberta is fairly spread out, which makes it harder for diseases to spread.

2. Pet health care: The best way to avoid zoonoses is to make sure your pet is healthy. 

  • Acquire pets from reputable sources (talk to a veterinarian for suggestions)
  • Maintain proper health care through regular vaccinations.
  • Monitor your pet's contact with other animals who might carry disease.

3. Your own immune system and health: People with reduced immunity are more susceptible to zoonoses. For example, people who are undergoing cancer treatments or who have HIV (AIDS) should take extra care around pets. Also, young children, and the elderly may have less immune system capacity.


How can diseases be transmitted from pets to people? 

Diseases are spread from pets to people mainly through biting and scratching. We tend to underestimate the potential harm from bites, especially cat bites. Cat bites are usually thin and deep and may not look very serious. However, the deep bites inject bacteria from the cat's mouth under the skin, resulting in infections that may need treatment with antibiotics. Dog bites, on the other hand, usually look worse but cause greater damage to the surface of the skin.


The first step in preventing injuries is to train your dog or cat not to bite. If you are bitten, clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water. If you are concerned about infection, see your doctor. Bites that break the skin should be reported to your local public health unit, particularly if:

  1. they were caused by an animal that is not your own

  2. they involve the head or neck

  3. the wound is serious

  4. the bite was unprovoked or the animal's behavior is abnormal.

If an animal bites a person, animal health officials may need to put the animal under observation, and anyone in contact with the animal may need to be immunized for rabies. The threat of rabies is rare, but potentially fatal, therefore unprovoked bites should be checked and treated by public health officials. Your hospital or physician can assist you in contacting the public health service in your area.               


If my pet has...

Can it spread to humans?

cat leukemia

NO. Cats can get this disease. People can't.

cat immunodeficiency
(sometimes called feline AIDS)

NO. Cats can get this disease. People can't.


Not likely - very few cases have been reported in humans


NO, although there is a hookworm disease found in humans who live in the tropics


NO. People transmit this parasite to each other.

systemic fungal infections


Lyme Disease

NO. The bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes Lyme Disease is spread by ticks.  You can't get Lyme Disease directly from your pet. You get Lyme Disease through a tick bite (just like your pet can).

flu, colds, sore throats

No, with one exception: ferrets are susceptible to influenza A and B strains, and these viruses can be passed back and forth between ferrets and humans.





Which pets can get this disease?

How does it get from pets to people?

What happens
if I get it?

Tips for prevention

Toxoplasmosis- an infection caused by a single-celled parasite


Most pet species can carry this disease, but only cats shed the infections. Cats get it by eating rodents, raw meat, cockroaches, flies or by contacting infected cats, infected cat feces, or contaminated soil.

It is rare for people to get this disease from cats. However, pregnant women and anyone with reduced immunity should take precautions. Toxoplasmosis can be transmitted to humans by:Toxoplasmosis can be transmitted to humans by:
1.) eating undercooked meats or unwashed fruits and vegetables, or
2.) not washing your hands after gardening, playing in the sandbox or cleaning out the cat's litter box.

If you are healthy, the symptoms may be fever, malaise or lymph node enlargement. If you are pregnant and it is your first exposure, the consequences range from birth defects to possible fetal abortion/death. If you have a compromised immune system, toxoplasmosis can lead to potentially life-threatening central nervous system disorders.toxoplasmosis can lead to potentially life-threatening central nervous system disorders.

1.) Practice careful hygiene around litter boxes.
2.) Keep children's sandboxes covered.
3.) Keep your cat from hunting.
4.) If you are pregnant, don't handle cat litter - let someone else clean the litter box.
5.) Cook meats well, wash your hands after handling raw meats, wash vegetables, wear gloves while gardening.

Roundworms(Toxocaral Larva Migrans) - many species of worms, often in the intestines


Dogs are the most likely to become infected.

People can get roundworms from the fecal matter of dogs. Most often, these are young children who eat dirt or sand in which roundworm eggs are found because of dog stool left on the soil.

Larvae of roundworms can hatch in the gut. Although they don't complete their life cycle in humans, roundworms can migrate in the body and cause damage to the retina of the eye, for example.

1.) Make sure puppies are dewormed.
2.) Always clean up you dog's stool.
3.) Make sure young children don't eat dirt.

Parrot fever(Psittacosis) - a bacteria-like organism that causes pneumonia.


Pet birds and wild birds can carry and spread psittacosis.

People catch psittacosis from contact with infected bird droppings.

Although usually mild or moderate in character, human disease can be severe, especially if untreated in elderly persons.

1.) Don't expose your pet bird to other birds.
2.) Keep the cage clean and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling the bird and the cage.

Hantavirus - a common virus in deer mice that attacks the lungs.


Hantavirus is an airborne virus. It can be spread to humans who sweep up deer mouse droppings. A dog or cat cannot spread the hantavirus from a rodent to a person.

Hantavirus is carried by deer mice but not by field mice. Deer mice are most common in rural areas; most city mice are field mice.

This virus usually starts with flu-like symptoms such as headache, muscle pain, and fever. It may progress to something more serious, including death. There have been28 cases of hantavirus in Alberta from1989 tof the end of 2004.

Take precautions when cleaning up mouse droppings. 1.) Soak mouse droppings with disinfectant.
2.) Wear gloves and a protective face mask if you are likely to be exposed to high levels of contamination or in spaces with little ventilation.
3.) Pick up the mouse droppings without sweeping or vacuuming.
4.) Hantavirus requires immediate and aggressive treatment.

Cat scratch disease(bartonellosis) - a bacterial infection that causes skin infections.


Cats pick up the bacteria under their claws.

Because their claws are thin and sharp, cat scratches inject bacteria under the skin. Or, if an infected cat licks an open cut, sore or lesion.

If scratch wounds are not cleaned properly, the skin can become infected. In rare cases, more serious complications can arise.

Teach you cat not to scratch. Clean scratched skin thoroughly with soap and water. See your doctor if the skin becomes red & inflamed.

Salmonella - a bacteria that causes intestinal infections. It is a common cause of food poisoning.


Most of us know that chicken and eggs can carry salmonella. Pets, birds and reptiles can also be carriers.

Pets that carry salmonella may not get sick from it, but people can. People get it from direct contact with their pets or from cages, living areas or bird feeders contaminated by salmonella.

Salmonella can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting.

Take care to clean your pet's cage and living area thoroughly. Wash your hands well with soap and water after handling pets. Keep reptile pets away from young children and infants.

Canine cough(bordetella; also known as kennel cough) - an infectious disease that causes infection and inflammation of the airway.


Dogs are very susceptible to catching canine cough from other dogs. Cats rarely catch it.

Canine cough rarely spreads to people. Whooping cough is caused by a related bacteria but does not spread from pets to people.

The symptoms are similar to those of a cold or bronchitis.

The best prevention is through immunization and by keeping your dog away from areas of concentrated canine population. Canine cough is treatable with antibiotics, though not necessary in most cases..

Ringworm - a fungus that causes a skin rash.


Cats are the most common carriers. Ringworm prefers high humidity.

Ringworm is transmitted by direct contact with fungal spores. Pets may carry spores without any outward sign of the disease.

Ringworm causes an itchy rash to develop on the skin.

In most cases, the rash is self-limiting. Creams can help speed recovery.

Rabies - a virus that attacks the brain.


The chief carriers of rabies in Alberta are bats and skunks. Pets can become infected with rabies when bitten by these animals.

Rabies is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected animal whether wild or a pet.

Immunization can be given after a bite has occurred, and a physician should decide when this is appropriate. Once symptoms have developed, death almost always occurs.

The best protection for pets and people is to immunize all pets and avoid handling wild animals.


Additional Resources:

The National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases

Zoonoses and the Human-Animal-Ecosystems Interface

Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses

Worms & Germs Blog: Do headline writers actually read the articles?