Can I Catch a Cold From My Pet?

If your pet gets sick, you may worry that you or your child may catch the same illness. As well, you might worry about your pet catching an illness from you. This depends on what is causing the illness in either case, and one's general health, but most of the common illnesses that affect humans do not affect pets in the same way—and vice versa.

Can't Catch From a Pet
  • Respiratory infections (colds, influenza)

  • Kennel cough (except in rare cases)

  • Canine parvovirus

  • Heartworms

Could Catch From a Pet
  • Tick-borne infections

  • Scabies

  • Toxoplasmosis

  • Salmonella

  • Rabies

  • Ringworm

  • MRSA

  • Cat scratch disease

  • Pasteurella multicoda

  • Staphylococcus aureus

  • Streptococcus pyogenes

What You Can’t Catch From Your Pet

The viruses that give animals things like coughs, colds, and the flu are different from the ones that cause these illnesses in people, and they don’t spread back and forth between humans and animals.

Some illnesses that affect pets that do not affect humans include the following.

Common Colds and Upper Respiratory Illnesses

There are several viruses that can cause upper respiratory diseases in cats and dogs. None of these are transmitted to humans but can be very contagious to other dogs or cats.

Of course, there are hundreds of viruses that cause colds in humans, but you can't usually spread them to your pets either. Dogs generally will not catch human cold viruses, but some experts think that cats might rarely catch some types of human colds.

Canine Parvovirus

This virus causes vomiting and diarrhea, among other symptoms, in dogs and can be very serious or even fatal.

There is an illness known as parvovirus B19, or fifth disease, that can make people (usually children) sick, but it is a completely different virus. The symptoms of fifth disease include a rash, low-grade fever and sometimes cold-like symptoms.

Canine Bordatellosis (Kennel Cough)

This chronic and often severe cough can cause serious respiratory complications for your dog and is highly contagious among dogs. It generally does not affect humans, but those with respiratory disease or immune compromise might be infected.

It is caused by a variety of bacteria and viruses acting in sequence or together.

Heartworms

These are parasitic worms spread by the bite of a mosquito, which is a host for one stage of the worm's development. Left untreated, heartworms will be fatal to your dog or cat, but they are not transmitted to humans by pets.

What You Could Catch From Your Pet

There are several serious illnesses that you can catch from your pet. Some of these illnesses will make your pet sick as well, but some will not. These are known as zoonotic diseases.

Tick-Borne Infections

Animals get Lyme disease from ticks, just like humans do. It is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by the bite of the tick.

You will not get Lyme disease just because your pet has it, but the same tick that infected your pet could infecte you as well.

Dog ticks may also carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which is a very serious illness for humans and is caused by the bacteria Rickettsia parkeri.

If you have pets, you should check them daily for ticks and also check yourself and your children if you have been outside, especially in or near a wooded area.

Mange or Scabies

These conditions are caused by mites. Well-fed and well-kept cats rarely get mange or scabies, but it is much more common in dogs.

“Red mange” is not a concern for humans, but the mange that is also known as scabies is highly contagious to humans. The symptoms include severe itching, skin irritation, and hair loss in dogs as well as humans. It should be treated as soon as possible to prevent secondary infections.

Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite and has been found in virtually all warm-blooded animals. Cats make the perfect host for the parasite that causes the most serious infections.

This is really only a threat to pregnant women (because it can cause severe harm to a fetus) and people with compromised immune systems. As many as a third of adults have been infected with the disease and are immune to it. It causes no serious threat to healthy, non-pregnant humans.

Those at risk for complications due to toxoplasmosis should not change cat litter, avoid eating any undercooked or raw meat, and wash hands and cooking utensils thoroughly after handling raw meat.

Salmonella

Salmonella is a bacteria that usually does not make animals sick, but it can be found in the feces of some pets, especially those with diarrhea. It is also commonly found on reptiles that are kept as pets.

Reptiles, even turtles, should not be kept as pets in a household with children under 5 years old because this age group is most susceptible to complications from salmonella infection and the most likely to put things in their mouths.

Pasteurella multocida

Pasteurella multocida is a bacterial infection that can be caused by dog and cat bites or scratches (more commonly cats). It is rare, but when it occurs, it typically causes cellulitis at the site of injury.

Rabies

Caused by a virus, rabies is the most severe and serious infection that can be passed from animals to humans. This incurable and fatal viral disease has been found all over the world. However, rabies is extremely rare in the United States, with only 47 cases between 1990 and 2005. Between 2008 and 2019, there were only nine cases, all associated with exposure during international travel.

It is extremely important to have your pets vaccinated against rabies. If you or your pet is bitten by another animal, seek medical attention immediately. You should also try to find out the immunization status of the other animal, if it is someone else’s pet, or capture the animal if it is wild (and you can do so without being bitten again) so that it can be tested.

Ringworm

This is a fungal skin infection caused by Microsporum species. Ringworm can be spread from pets to humans and humans to pets by contact.

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

This antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be harbored by cats and dogs and spread to humans, and vice versa. As with humans, a pet may be colonized by the bacteria and not have any symptoms or problems by harboring it, or it may cause an infection.

Cat Scratch Disease

This infection is caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae and is spread by cat scratches (especially by kittens). In humans, cat scratch disease is usually a mild infection that produces a raised bump or a swollen lymph node, but it can affect the eyes and be more severe.

Cat scratches may also transmit a fungal infection called sporotrichosis.

What Your Pet Can Catch From You

As mentioned, you may transmit ringworm or MRSA to your pet, just as they can pass it to you. There are a few other human diseases you can give to your pet as well.

Mumps

This viral illness can be spread to your dog, but this is an extremely rare event. While formerly a common childhood disease, mumps is now prevented in humans who get the MMR vaccine. It could be a concern in communities where vaccination rates are low.

Diarrheal Illnesses

Your pets can be infected by illnesses spread by human or animal fecal contamination of water or surfaces. These include the bacteria Campylobacter and Salmonella and the parasite Giardia.

As in humans, these may cause diarrhea in cats and dogs, or they may have no symptoms. Research has also shown that dogs may be infected with norovirus (a cause of human stomach flu) in households where their human companions have had norovirus, and the dog may have symptoms.

If you have a diarrheal illness, be sure to use good hygiene, wash your hands after using the restroom, and perhaps keep your pets out of your bathroom until the illness resolves.

Tuberculosis

Dogs are susceptible to the human form of the tuberculosis bacteria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. They may have respiratory or digestive symptoms.

Cats generally are not infected by the human form of tuberculosis, but may be infected by the version found in cattle.

A Word From Verywell

Pets are great companions, but it is important to keep them healthy. Make sure their shots are up-to-date and they are well cared for. You will keep them and your family healthier that way. If you are concerned about a minor virus, such as a cold, being passed between your family and your pet, don’t be. But if you have any fear that your pet may have something more serious that could be transmitted, contact your vet and your healthcare provider.

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Article Sources
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