Humans have enjoyed the companionship of their scaly, furry and feathered friends for centuries. Pets bring unconditional love, but are sometimes accompanied by zoonotic diseases. A number of scientific studies have found that direct contact with pets can put people at risk for the transmission of a zoonotic disease.

WHAT IS A ZOONOTIC DISEASE?

Zoonotic diseases are any disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa. This handout discusses two zoonotic diseases.

WHAT IS SALMONELLA?

Salmonella is an intestinal bacterium most commonly found in reptiles, but may also occur in dogs. Salmonella, however, is rarely found in cats.

Who in the family is at risk for Salmonella?

Salmonella is a zoonotic disease capable of being spread from animals to people. Since all reptiles are potential carriers, reptile owners have a higher risk of exposure. Pregnant women, young children and those with a compromised immune system (cancer patients, AIDS patients, chronically diseased) should avoid contact with reptiles.

How is Salmonella transmitted?

Salmonella is spread by direct or indirect contact. Children may contact the infection by putting their hands in their mouths after handling the reptile prior to thorough washing. Bathing a reptile, cleaning the cage or cleaning feeding dishes of your scaly friend in the kitchen sink can be an indirect source of infection to family members as well. Do not touch your face with your hands directly after handling your reptile and do not allow your reptile to touch your face as this can increase the chances of disease transmission.

How do I know if my pet or I is infected with Salmonella?

People may experience sudden onset of watery or mucous diarrhea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain and lethargy. Reptiles do not show symptoms of Salmonella, thus all reptiles should be regarded as possible carriers. This does not mean that reptiles cannot be enjoyed and played with. For the right family, reptiles make excellent pets. Good hygiene such as thorough hand washing should be employed after playing with any pet.

How is Salmonella treated?

Since diagnosis can be difficult, treatment in dogs is often symptomatic, including medications to help with diarrhea, vomiting, fever and pain. Specific antibiotics can be used to treat a diagnosed Salmonella infection. Seek medical attention from your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your pet’s health and visit your family practitioner for any health questions about your family.

What can you do to protect the entire family from Salmonella?

Pets with known infections should be isolated from other pets and family members and treated by your veterinarian. In people, practice good hygiene for both your family and pet. Encourage family members to wash exposed areas of skin after petting and playing with pets. Food/water dishes, cages, and reptiles should be kept out of food preparation areas.

WHAT IS CHLAMYDIA?

Chlamydia is a bacterial agent most commonly affecting birds, but is occasionally found in cats as well.

Who in the family is at risk for Chlamydia?

Chlamydia, also called Psitticosis, is a zoonotic disease capable of infection people. Infected people may also be a source of infection for birds. Since birds often carry the bacteria without being affected by it, bird owners are at increased risk.

How is Chlamydia transmitted?

Chlamydia is spread from birds and cats to people by inhaling or ingesting the bacteria from eye or respiratory discharge, stool or urine. Higher risk contact can occur while cleaning cages or visiting areas with a high volume of birds (chicken coops, etc.) but exposure can occur anywhere birds are present. Do not touch your face with your hands directly after handling your
bird and do not allow your bird to touch your face as this can increase the chances of disease transmission.

How do I know if my pet or I is infected with Chlamydia?

In cats, the infection can cause a mild inflammation of the tissues around the eye (conjunctivitis). Birds may be asymptomatic (without noticeable symptoms) or demonstrate eye or nasal discharge, trouble breathing, fluffed up or miserable appearance, bright green stool or green discoloration of the urates (the white material often mistaken for feces). People infected with Chlamydia may experience flu like symptoms including fever, headache and muscle aches. They may also develop atypical pneumonia, which can progress to serious neurological disease or heart disease. Seek medical attention from your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your pet’s health and visit your family practitioner for any health questions about your human family.

How is Chlamydia treated?

Treatment can be very difficult in birds. Diagnosis in cats and birds will be treated with antibiotics such as tetracycline and symptomatically.

What can you do to protect the entire family from Chlamydia?

All new birds entering an aviary, including multi bird households, should be screened for Chlamydia. Pets with known infections should be isolated from other pets and family members and treated by a veterinarian. In people, practice good hygiene for both your family and pet. Encourage family members to wash exposed areas of skin after petting and playing with pets. Food/water dishes, cages and birds should be kept out of food preparation areas.
Besides Salmonella and Chlamydia there are many other zoonotic diseases that pet parents may be exposed to such as fungal disease, respiratory diseases and gastrointestinal diseases. Due to this it is imperative that good hygiene and the above safety precautions are implemented by all family members.