What are Zoonotic diseases?A zoonotic disease is an illness that can be transmitted between animals and humans. Typically the diseases tend to pass from animal to human but there are reported cases of human to animal infection.
What are the common zoonotic diseases in dogs?There are over a hundred diseases which can be zoonotic but thankfully most of them are rare. Below are some of the most important and common diseases transmitted by dogs.
RabiesRabies is one of the most common zoonotic diseases in the world and humans can be infected by a wide variety of animals including from dog bites. Thankfully the UK is a rabies-free country (although a very few bats do carry a related virus). However, it is possible to become infected in many other countries. This is why all pets travelling outside of the UK are required to have a passport and rabies vaccination to help prevent them from becoming infected. Rabies is a serious disease and is almost always fatal to any infected person or animal who develops symptoms. Symptoms in dogs include a change in behaviour, hyper aggression, manic behaviour, excessive salivation, fever, dropped jaw, poor co-ordination, paralysis, and seizures. It is considered a notifiable disease in the UK, meaning any suspected cases must be reported immediately. If you are concerned your dog has rabies keep them contained, remain away from them and contact your vet immediately. If you feel you may have been bitten by a dog with rabies seek emergency medical attention immediately.
LeptospirosisLeptospirosis is a disease caused by spiral-shaped bacteria of the Leptospira genus and in humans is referred to as Weil’s disease. It can be transmitted directly through the urine of infected animals (most commonly rodents) and indirectly through contaminated soil/water. Unvaccinated dogs of any age can become infected and risk passing on the infection to their owner through their urine. Symptoms vary greatly depending on what organ/s in the body are infected, but can be very serious (please see our Leptospirosis factsheet for more details). Antibiotics can be used against the bacteria, but dogs infected with leptospirosis are often very sick and usually require hospitalisation. These dogs should be barrier nursed (see below) to protect humans and other dogs from becoming infected until they are cured. Routine vaccinations will significantly reduce the risk of your dog becoming infected. The vaccines are also very effective at reducing the severity of infection, and the numbers of bacteria shed by an infected dog.
ParasitesThere are many parasites dogs can get which are zoonotic. These include external parasites such as fleas and mites as well as internal parasites such as roundworms and tapeworms. External parasites can be transmitted through direct/close contact, whereas internal parasites are transmitted through ingestion of eggs in dog faeces. Dogs with parasites may have itchy skin and hair loss, or weight loss and diarrhoea amongst other symptoms. Thankfully regular treatment for parasites from your vet can prevent your dog from getting any of these diseases and protect you and your family.
Dogs, as well as humans, naturally have bacteria such as Campylobacter and Salmonella in their intestines. Dogs that get diarrhoea will often have their faeces sent to the laboratory for culture to see what bacteria grow. Although zoonotic bacteria such as Campylobacter are commonly grown and reported, this does not guarantee they are the cause of the diarrhoea - they can sometimes be grown even in healthy dogs with no disease.
Other bacteria that can be transmitted between animals and people include Pseudomonas (e.g. from bad ear infections) and MRSA (although this normally travels from people to animals, it can of course go back the other way).
In the rare event that your dog is diagnosed with a zoonotic bacterial infection, basic barrier nursing (see below) and hygiene can help protect you and your family.