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Can your dog get you sick?

Dog conjunctivitis

Owning a dog is good for both your physical and emotional wellbeing. Dogs make us happier, healthier, and less stressed. While the chances are very low, there is also a risk your dog could spread harmful germs, illnesses, and diseases to you. Next time your dog goes in for a face lick, you might want to think twice. So, can your dog make you sick? How can you avoid catching illnesses from your canine companion? 

Table of contents 

What are zoonotic diseases? 

Zoonotic diseases, each considered a zoonosis, are infectious diseases that have transitioned from an animal to humans. Zoonotic infections can be bacterial, viral, or parasitic, and can spread to humans by direct contact with domestic, agricultural, or wild animals, or through food and water. They can cause many different types of illness in people ranging from mild to serious, and even death. 

How can your dog get you sick? 

Unlike catching a bug from a friend or colleague, contracting an illness from your pet is highly unlikely and very rare. However, the ways in which humans do catch zoonotic diseases are similar to the spread of human-to-human diseases. It is possible for you to get sick from your dog in the following ways: 

  • Saliva – If your dog is sick with a zoonosis, you can contract the illness from contaminated surfaces like their food and water bowls or toys. Your dog can also pass on their germs by licking your face or hands (which you then use to touch your eyes or mouth). 
  • Feces – Illnesses in dogs are often transmitted through their stool. Be sure to avoid direct contact when picking up your dog’s poop and immediately wash your hands to avoid contamination. 
  • Close contact – For diseases caused by external parasites like fleas and ticks, being in close physical proximity to your dog, like sleeping in the same bed, can put you at risk. As it turns out, all of that money you spend on flea and tick medicine doesn’t just benefit your pup—it benefits you, too. 

Possible zoonotic illnesses in dogs 

Although it’s rare for people to catch illnesses from pets, there are a number of diseases, known as zoonotic diseases, that can spread from animals to people. Germs from dogs can cause a variety of illnesses, from minor skin infections to serious illnesses. 

Some known zoonotic diseases in dogs include: 

  • Rabies – A rare but devastating viral disease affecting mammals, including dogs and humans, rabies is transmitted by the bite of a rabid animal. It causes neurologic damage and is generally fatal. 
  • Ringworm – Ringworm is a skin and scalp disease caused by a fungal infection. It can be transmitted quite easily to humans, especially young children, through direct physical contact, but is highly treatable. 
  • Salmonellosis – Salmonellosis, commonly referred to as salmonella, causes fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. It can be spread to humans through contact with a dog that has the germ or with the dog’s feces or saliva. 
  • Intestinal parasites – Roundworms, hookworms, and Giardia parasites can take up residence in the guts of both dogs and people. They are typically transmitted through a dog’s feces and then infect humans when they come into contact with contaminated surfaces. 
  • Scabies – Also known as sarcoptic mange, scabies involves tiny mites burrowing under and feeding on their host’s skin. Fortunately, mites that infect dogs do not live long with a human host, so any itchy rash generally resolves on its own. 
  • Flea- and tick-borne illnesses – Fleas and ticks can hop from dog to human, causing the same issues such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Ehrlichiosis, and tapeworms. While you cannot catch any of these directly from your dog, having a dog in the house with a tick or flea infestation puts you at risk of encountering these pesky parasites, too. 

It is important to note that what pet owners would consider average dog colds are not contagious to humans. You can’t catch a cold from your dog, any more than your dog can pick up a human strain of a cold virus from you. If your dog has a cold, give them cuddles and consult your veterinarian about how to help them feel better as soon as possible.  

Who is most at risk of getting sick from dogs? 

Although still low, your chance of contracting a zoonotic illness does increase if you have a compromised immune system. Those who are most at risk for catching a type of illness from their dog include: 

  • Children 
  • Seniors aged 65 and older 
  • Pregnant people 
  • Immunocompromised people, who have a weakened immune system from medications, illness, or other health conditions like an organ transplant or treatment 

How to avoid getting sick from your dog 

The best way to prevent from contracting zoonotic diseases from your dog involves good hygiene and cleanliness practices. As a dog parent, you should: 

  • Clean up poop – Pick up after your dog as soon as possible. Dispose of the feces in a sealed bag and avoid touching it with your hands or exposing it to clothing or surfaces you might touch 
  • Wash your hands – Make sure to wash your hands with soap and warm water immediately after handling a dog or their feces, food and water bowls, or toys where a dog’s saliva might have spread germs. Consider using gloves when handling a dog that could make you sick through direct physical contact, such as scabies or ringworm. 
  • Keep kisses off the face – Don’t let dogs give you kisses on your face, especially not on or around your mouth, nose, or eyes. If you come into contact with their tongue despite your efforts, wash your face. 
  • Visit the veterinarian regularly – Regular checkups with your dog’s veterinarian can help identify health problems, including parasites or infectious diseases that can be spread between animals and humans. If your dog contracts any worms, de-worm them as soon as possible. 
  • Stay up to date on vaccines and preventatives – Ensure that your dog (and you!) is current on all needed vaccinations. For your dog, that would include rabies, distemper, kennel cough, and canine parvovirus. You should also administer heartworm and flea and tick preventatives year-round to protect your dog—and family—from illnesses caused by these parasites.  

Bottom line 

You can get sick from your dog. Several illnesses can spread through close contact, contaminated feces, or swapping saliva. However, getting sick from your dog is rare, and basic hygiene practices will help prevent this from happening. Be sure to consult your veterinarian as soon as possible if you suspect your dog is sick, and give them the recommended preventative medications year-round to keep them healthy. 

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