4 Tips to Stay Healthy Around Your Pet

Posted on by Casey Barton Behravesh, MS, DVM, DrPH, DACVPM, Director, One Health Office, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases

Father Reading Book With Son And Daughter And Pet Dog At Home

Pets, whether covered in fur, feathers, or scales, are an important part of our lives—most American households own at least one pet. Many people see their pet as a member of the family that brings joy and amusement to their life. But did you know that having a pet can even help improve your health? Having a pet can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness. Pets can also encourage you to be active and get outside, and provide opportunities to socialize.

The risk of getting a disease from a pet is low for most people, but some groups are more likely to get sick from the germs spread by pets, and their illness may be more severe. Young children, older adults, people with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to certain zoonotic infections.While there are many benefits to pet ownership, animals can sometimes carry germs that make us sick. Zoonotic diseases can spread between people and animals—even our pets. In the past decade, we’ve seen outbreaks of illness in people linked to pets such as puppies, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, turtles, lizards, geckos, hedgehogs, and even water frogs.

You might not realize that the everyday activities involved in caring for your pet can result in the spread of germs from pets to people. Handling pet food and toys, cleaning cages, and yes, even kissing your pet, can pass germs from the pet to you. Pets can spread germs even if they look clean and healthy.

All of this may sound scary, but knowing about zoonotic diseases and the simple things you can do to reduce the risk will help you enjoy your pets and stay healthy. Adopt these four simple habits to help you, your family, and your pets stay healthy and happy.

  1. Choose the right pet
    Not all pets are right for all people. In addition to thinking about the pet’s needs, consider who will be around the pet at home. Are there young kids in the house, or maybe a relative over 65? Certain pets, including reptiles, amphibians, and rodents, are not recommended for children 5 years of age and younger, adults 65 years of age and older, and people with weakened immune systems because they’re more likely to get sick. Rodents and cats can carry diseases that cause birth defects, so think about waiting to adopt one of these pets if you or someone in your home is pregnant. Talk to your veterinarian about choosing the right pet.
  2. Keep your pet healthy
    Keeping your pet healthy helps to keep you healthy. Make sure pets get a good diet, fresh water, shelter, and exercise. Regular veterinary care is also important for your pet. Many pets need routine vaccinations, de-worming, and flea and tick control to protect them, and their owners, from certain diseases. Every pet—whether it’s a dog, cat, hamster, ferret, or iguana—should receive life-long veterinary care. If you think your pet might be sick, talk to your veterinarian. Also, remember to include your pets in your emergency preparedness plans so you can keep them safe and healthy in an emergency.
  3. Practice good hygiene
    Washing your hands is one of the best ways to stay healthy around pets and can also protect you against other diseases. Always wash your hands after playing with, feeding, or cleaning up after your pet. Pets can contaminate surfaces in your home with germs—you don’t have to touch your pets to get sick from the germs they might be carrying. Keep your pets away from people food and areas where food and drink are prepared, served, consumed, or stored. Always clean up dog feces (poop) from your yard and public areas to prevent the spread of parasites and other germs to people. If you’re pregnant and have a cat, avoid changing the litter box.
  4. Supervise kids around pets
    Always supervise young children around pets, even trusted family pets. Children, especially those 5 years of age and younger, can be at higher risk for pet-related illnesses because they often touch surfaces that may be contaminated, put objects in their mouths, and are less likely to wash their hands. Children are often the victims of bites and scratches and are more likely to get seriously ill from certain diseases spread from pets. Don’t let kids kiss pets or put their hands or objects in their mouths after playing with pets. Help them to wash their hands after they interact with any animal.

We all love our pets, but it’s important to know the risks that come with any animal contact, especially for people who are more vulnerable to certain diseases. Practicing healthy pet habits can help you enjoy your pets while staying healthy.

You can learn more about pets on CDC’s Healthy Pets Healthy People website, and be sure to check out this feature for more tips on staying healthy around pets.


Posted on by Casey Barton Behravesh, MS, DVM, DrPH, DACVPM, Director, One Health Office, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious DiseasesTags , , , , , , ,

12 comments on “4 Tips to Stay Healthy Around Your Pet”

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    More information is needed to explain Toxoplasmosis and cats in particular.

    I have a service dog, he goes out to do his business, but for the most part stays indoors with me, unless we go out somewhere, or I take him for a walk with me in a wheelchair. He’s my second service dog.
    Prior to getting ill, we had dogs…three of them over the years. At the agency that I got my dog helpers from, they teach us how to keep them clean, etc. Of course, if I drop say a book, or a pillow, the dog will pick it up for me. He sleeps in the bed with hubby and I, so he can pick up if I have a seizure since I have a seizure disorder as well as MS. He takes trifexis monthly here at home all year round.
    He is always up to date on shots, even takes Bordetella shot, since we go out in public. He doesn’t care much for other dogs, and ignores them. My first service dog was the same…into people, not dogs. I’ve been following the story about the man who lost his limbs and nose due to dog saliva.
    I have MS, and have a poor immune system. We always wash hands after touching the dog’s bowl, or before eating, but like now, I’ve done some gardening, and have some scratches on my hands….Is there anything else I should be doing? Do I need to keep my dog on a preventative antibiotic to prevent transfer of this organism? Or should I take something? My service dogs have given me my life back, and I know I will be asked this by the public, because the story is out there, and folks ask all sorts of questions when I am working with my dog in public. This is bound to come up. Oh, in my prior life, before I got MS, I was a nurse, so…..anything you can share with me would be so welcome. thank you.

    Can pets, particularly dogs, harbor transmissable COVID19: saliva, feces ? What can you full body wash-bathe the dog or pet with to destroy the virus? What immediate virus killer-spray can be used? What is the virus’s transmissable infectious life on a dog’s-or pet’s coat at ambient Spring temperature? Any other precautions with my live-in, sleep with dog. Thanks!

    I could not see answers about pets which are already in small rooms in Assisted Living and other Senior facilities. If general guidelines are intended to be followed, it will be impossible for staff to do what the owners were not doing and now CANNOT BE EXPECTED TO DO, for the safety of all. It will add an extra burden to what is now expected by staffs who themselves are either overworked, sick or missing.

    Thanks for your informative and valuable article on pet. We all must follow some scientific guidelines while keeping a pet at our house. We keep them safe and healthy as we want ourselves remain healthy living with them.

    I am looking for information regarding street animals–community dogs and cats. These are a huge issue in the Balkan country where I volunteer, and in many others as well. Recommendations?

    Dogs need exercise to burn calories, what is the suitable time for exercise? also time duration for pup?

    A friend always lets the dog lick the plates clean before loading the dishwasher. Is it safe to eat from plates that dogs have “precleaned”?

    It is a great article, I am heartily impressed by your blog and learned more from your article. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

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Page last reviewed: May 7, 2018
Page last updated: May 7, 2018