Zoonosis - What is it?

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).

There are two types of zoonotic diseases that concern pet owners: illnesses that can be transmitted from animals to humans - like Leptospirosis - and diseases that infect both people and pets - like Lyme Disease. That's why it's important to take precautions to protect both your family and your pet from zoonotic diseases. You share many things with your pet, but diseases shouldn't be one of them.

Zoonotic diseases that affect people.

Cat Scratch diseases - 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 become infected when they drink water containing the parasite Giardia Lamblia. 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 can contract Lepto from living in an area with wildlife (camping, etc). 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. The number of Lyme disease cases has nearly tripled since 1990, and the disease is now found in virtually every state. *Note you can not get Lyme Disease directly from your pet. Both humans and pets get Lyme Disease from infected Ticks. You can not transmit the disease from human to dog or visa versa.

Rabies - This well-known disease is cause by a virus found in the saliva of infected animals and transmitted to people by bites. It is invariably fatal if not promptly treated. **See bottom of page for general post-exposure guidelines**

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

Proven Ways to protect your family and your pet

Many zoonotic diseases can be prevented by vaccination. Vaccines are now available for leptospirosis, Lyme disease, and rabies.

In addition, wellness exams performed by your veterinarian can help detect and treat zoonotic infections before they become serious, or are transmitted to other pets or people in your house.

Don't forget to take these steps to help protect your family and your pet

  • Wash your hands often when touching, playing with or caring for pets
  • Never handle the stool of any animal without wearing disposable gloves or using a plastic barrier.
  • Do daily "tick checks" on yourself, your kids, and your pet. If you find a tick, use tweezers to slowly pull it out. After removing the tick, immerse it in rubbing alcohol. Wash the tick bite wound and your hands with soap and water.
  • Don't let your pet drink from standing water outdoors.
  • If you are pregnant, ask someone else in the family to clean the cat's litter box. If you must do it yourself, wear gloves and immediately wash you hands after changing the litter.
  • Don't let your pet come into contact with feces or urine of other animals.
  • Wash your hands after gardening or working in soil where pets may have relieved themselves.
  • Keep yard and living area free of materials that may attract disease-carrying wildlife.
  • See your veterinarian and make sure your pet is protected against zoonosis and other disease threats in your area. For your pet AND for your family.
  • If you are scratched or bitten, wash the area with soap and water right away and administer first aid.


General Guidelines for all possible rabies exposures

  1. Wash the bite or scratch thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 10 minutes
  2. Contact doctor AND veterinarian immediately.
  3. Try to capture the biting animal without damaging its head or risking further exposure.
  4. Report the incident to local county health office

General Post-Exposure Guidelines

For Humans: When warranted, five post-exposure treatments are administered. The first is given with rabies-immune globulin as soon after exposure as possible. Remaining treatments are given on days 3,7,14, and 28.

For Animals: Post-exposure treatments are typically not given. Vaccinated animals are boosted after exposure to non-vaccinated animals. For the Complete "Indiana Rabies Handbook" please see the Indiana State Board of Animal Health's website Click Here

Human Health

Indiana Family Helpline: 800/433-0746
Indiana State Department of Health: 317/233-7272
Indiana State Rabies Laboratory: 317/233-8048

Animal Health

Indiana State Board of Animal Health: 317/227-0300
Wildlife Conflict Hotline: 800/893-4116