Can we make our pets ill? The conditions humans might pass on to pets

February 13, 2020 - 3 min read

This article was written for the United Kingdom market and the advice provided may not be accurate for those in the United States.

The human illnesses that can be passed on to pets

In 2009, a cat in Oregon died of N1H1 influenza-related pneumonia that it contracted from its owner. The cat was kept indoors and didn't have contact with any other animals it could have caught the strain from. Some strains of flu, such as the N1H1 and the H3N2, have the ability to mutate and be transmitted between various species.

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Fourteen cases of human-to-animal transmission of the N1H1 strain of flu, also known as swine flu, were reported between 2011 and 2012. This is known as 'reverse zoonoses', which is when illnesses are transferred from humans to animals. Zoonoses, when humans catch diseases from animals, are more common.

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Reverse zoonoses seems to be limited to these cases, which means it extremely rare for pets to physically catch anything from their owners. However, pets may be able to pick up on psychological conditions.

How likely is your pet to contract a disease from you?

One study published by the PLOS One journal in 2014 proposed that 61% of human pathogens are multi-host, which means they can survive and possibly mutate in other species too. The analysis also revealed that 13% of human-to-animal transferable diseases were fungal, 21% parasitic, 29% viral, and 38% bacterial.

Find out if pets can get the novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV.

There is little research on the subject, but other illnesses suspected to be transferable from humans to pets are mumps, ringworm, salmonella, giarda, MRSA, and TB. Veterinary advisors for PetMD advise that the chances of these being transmitted from humans to pets are very slim and note that pets are a lot more likely to catch them from other animals.

And when it comes to the human-to-pet transmissions of the N1H1 strain of influenza, dog owners have even less to worry about, as only 1 of the 14 cases involved a dog.

At present, cases of humans catching an illness from their pets are far more common than the other way around.

Can humans pass on mental health conditions to their pets?

It is well known that pets can have severe separation anxiety that can leave them depressed after the passing of an owner or another animal companion. But can we pass our human grief and depression on to them?

The science is scarce and there is no clear-cut answer, however, veterinary nurse Madeline Pike advises: “We can rely on our dogs to cheer us up when we are feeling down. However, it is important we reciprocate this dependency by ensuring the home environment is as positive as possible, so we don’t negatively affect our dogs’ behaviour.”

It is important to remember that when it comes to mental health, our animal companions might be equipped with emotional sensitivity similar to ours and are therefore likely to be affected by their environment and our moods.

If you’re worried your pet might be depressed or grieving, try to create a positive atmosphere in the home and avoid potentially stressful situations such as loud arguments or intense emotional outbursts.

Always consult a vet if you suspect your pet might be ill.

The conditions that humans can catch from pets

According to PetMD, some of the most common diseases owners contract from their pets are rabies, Lyme disease, toxoplasmosis and different types of worm parasites.

Small children, older people and anyone with a weakened immune system are more susceptible to contracting a disease from their pet; however, with good hygiene and regular vaccinations, the risk is small.

Associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and global health at the University of Washington, Dr Peter Rabinowitz, told CNN in 2015 that even though we've kept cats and dogs as pets for many years and have therefore adapted to illnesses we could get from them, they can still sometimes make us sick, but, "you can go a long way by washing your hands with soap and water".

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Irina Wells
Content Marketing Executive

Irina is a former content marketing executive for ManyPets. She has contributed to a number of personal finance sites, including Loot Financial Services and Claro Money.