Zoonoses: Illnesses That Can be Transmitted from Dogs to Humans

Zoonoses are something every pet owner should be aware of, because your dog can get you sick.

· 8 min read

Zoonoses are something every pet owner should be aware of, because your dog can get you sick.

Bringing a dog into your life comes with countless amazing benefits. A playful pup or loyal pooch is a constant source of companionship, unconditional love, and support. Dogs can light up your life with adorable antics, and even encourage you to exercise more often, through walks and playtime. Dogs can improve your mental health and help you regulate your nervous system.

Studies have shown that owning a dog can also lead to lower blood pressure, reduced stress, fewer instances of cardiovascular disease, and even a longer lifespan.

However, while dogs can definitely benefit your health, having a dog also comes with certain risks.

There are illnesses which can pass from our beloved pets to us, every time we clean up after their bowel movements, snuggle up to them on the sofa, or come in close contact with their teeth and claws. These zoonoses are important for any dog parent to be aware of, so they can protect themselves and their families from unwanted health ailments.

Defining Zoonoses: What are Zoonotic Diseases?

Zoonoses or zoonotic diseases are illnesses which can be passed between animals and humans. In some cases, these ailments don’t cause any symptoms for the animal, but can cause significant negative symptoms when they’re picked up by a human.

Zoonoses can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and various forms of fungus. There have been countless examples of these diseases reported over the years, from cat scratch fever to bird flu, swine flow, and malaria. While many of these ailments are spread by wild animals, they can also be transmitted by domestic creatures, including your family dog.

According to the CDC, approximately 6 of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can also be transmitted by animals. Some of the issues you can pick up from your pup may be relatively mild, such as diarrhea or a stomach bug. Others are more serious, such as Lyme disease, or severe bacterial infections. Most people won’t encounter any of these illnesses, even after years of caring for a family pet, but it is important to be aware of the risks, just in case.

The unfortunate truth is that we spend a lot of time with our household pets, which increases the risk of bacteria, virus, and illness spreading. You can pick up germs and ailments from:

·         Scratches or bites which break the skin

·         Sharing a bed with your dog (and any accompanying parasites)

·         Sharing kisses with your dog (where they lick your face)

·         Picking up dog poop and then touching your face, eyes, or mouth

·         Interacting with contaminated food, treats, and water bowls


What are the Most Common Dog Zoonoses?

Different ailments can spread from different animals.

Any individual exposed to an animal is at risk of becoming ill. However, some people will be more susceptible to severe ailments than others. For instance, people over the age of 65, pregnant people, children, and immunocompromised individuals may suffer more commonly from zoonoses.

If you happen to be the person who spends the most time with your dog, then you’re also likely to be more susceptible, as you’ll come into contact with their teeth, claws, feces, and parasites more frequently.

Below are some of the key ailments you should be aware of, which can spread between dogs and human beings.

1.   Rabies

Perhaps one of the most well-known zoonoses which spreads from dogs to human beings is rabies. This viral disease was previously a lot more common, before vaccinations were introduced to minimize the spread. However, around 1 in 3 cases of rabies still affect humans each year.

Rabies can cause a range of serious symptoms, including damage to the central nervous system, muscle weakness, and delusions. In a dog, you should be watching out for sudden behavioral changes, hypersensitivity to noise or light, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

Rabies is generally passed to humans through dog bites. If your dog bites you (even accidentally), and you experience a fever, tingling, or burning around the bite site, seek help immediately.


2.   Salmonella

Salmonella is a disease we commonly associate with birds, but it can also be passed on by dogs. Typically, dogs are infected in the same way as humans, after eating infected meat. Similar to other zoonoses, this infection can be spread to humans through contact with a dog’s saliva or feces. You may be infected if you touch an affected surface, and then your mouth.

The symptoms for dogs include nausea, fever, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. If you’re infected, you may encounter issues such as:

·         Vomiting

·         Diarrhea

·         Stomach cramps

·         Fever or chills

·         Blood in the stool

·         Headaches

Keep in mind, salmonella germs can still appear in a dog’s stool between 4 and 6 weeks after the initial infection has cleared.

3.   Campylobacteriosis

Campylobacteriosis is a type of infectious disease caused by bacteria. It often leads to severe diarrhea in dogs, and can occur after a dog has eaten spoiled food, or drunk contaminated water. In a dog, the typical symptoms of this condition include straining when going to the bathroom, abdominal cramping, mucoid diarrhea, fever, and lethargy.

The symptoms experienced by humans infected with this illness are very similar. You might have diarrhea, stomach cramping, and abdominal pain, as well as a significant fever. If your dog shows signs of this condition, be particularly cautious when dealing with feces, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling your dog.

The good news is that the symptoms will often fade naturally on their own without treatment.

4.   Brucellosis

A highly contagious bacterial infection, brucellosis is one of the common zoonoses which can be spread through interaction with a dog. Even if your pup licks your face, they could be passing on some of the bacteria which will make you sick.

In dogs, the symptoms of brucellosis tend to include an infection or swelling in the testicles or scrotum for male dogs, or a urine infection for female dogs. When left untreated, the condition can cause serious long-standing problems with reproduction. Usually, this condition is passed between dogs during sexual intercourse, or contact with infected bodily fluids.

In humans, symptoms include:

·         Loss of appetite

·         Chills or fever

·         Abdomen or back pain

·         Headaches

·         Lethargy

·         Weight loss

You can still get this condition after your dog has recovered, so be cautious. If you get this disease, it will be treated with antibiotics.

5.   Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection which can affect many kinds of animals, including dogs. It often leads to symptoms such as refusal to eat, abdominal pain, and vomiting. Your dog may also show signs of muscle pain or stiffness.

Typically, younger animals are more susceptible to this condition than older ones. However, any dog could be infected. The infection is spread through urine, so it’s important to be cautious if you’re cleaning up after any accidents in the home.

For human beings, the symptoms are likely to include digestive discomfort, muscle pains, and a high fever. Your doctor should be able to give you medicine to eliminate the infection.

6.   Ringworm

One of the more common zoonoses passed between dog and humans is Ringworm. This is a skin disease caused by a fungus. Most dogs will pick up the disease from exposure to the fungus when walking or playing outside.

Watch for circular areas of hair loss throughout your dog’s body. Scaly and itchy patches on the skin are common, and your dog might show signs of lethargy or discomfort. Symptoms of ringworm in humans often include:

·         Scaly red rashes on the skin

·         Circular patches of inflammation

·         Hair loss (anywhere on the body)

Anything that comes into contact with the fungus can spread the disease, including water bowls, toys, and brushes. Most of the time, the problem can be addressed with the use of skin medication and ointments.

7.   Gastroenteritis

One of the most common zoonoses which spreads between dogs and humans, presents in the form of simple stomach issues. Gastroenteritis is simply a stomach bug, or an upset stomach. You can even pass stomach problems onto your dog if they interact with any bacteria that you may be spreading.

Both people and pets tend to experience the same symptoms here, including:

·         Fever

·         Lethargy

·         Nausea

·         Vomiting

·         Stomach pain

·         Diarrhea

·         Weight loss

Gastroenteritis can be transmitted from dogs to people through their saliva, urine, or stool. Typically, dogs accidentally spread the bacteria responsible for causing the ailment when licking their owner’s face or hands.

8.   Tick-Borne diseases

According to one study, owning pets significantly increases a person’s chances of being bitten by a tick, and being exposed to tick-borne ailments. Both cats and dogs can unknowingly bring ticks into the household, which can bite your skin and cause various ailments.

Lyme disease is the most well-known tick borne disease, which can occur in both dogs and humans. Animals with Lyme disease tend to show very few symptoms. However, dogs can sometimes suffer from a loss of appetite, swollen joints, and lethargy.

If you’re bitten by a tick, or you’re concerned you might have been exposed to one, it’s important to get treatment as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of long-term ailments.

How to Avoid Dog Zoonoses

Not everyone who owns a dog will automatically experience a zoonotic disease. However, it is important to take precautions to reduce your risk of zoonoses. For the most part, the best thing you can do is practice good hygiene.

Clean up regularly after your dog and make sure you don’t leave any feces lingering in the yard. Keep your hands clean by washing them every time you’re around your dog. Even if they just lick your face or hands, it’s important to wash up afterwards. Other tips include:

·         Check your dog for parasites: Regularly check your dog for ticks, fleas, and other parasites after they’ve been outdoors. This will reduce the risk of parasitic infections spreading.

·         Avoid too much licking: Try to prevent your dog from licking your face, particularly around your mouth, nose or eyes. If they do lick you on the face, wash afterwards.

·         Give your dog vaccinations: Make sure your dog has all of the current vaccinations they need to protect against rabies, distemper, and canine parvovirus.

·         Deal with bites and scratches: If a dog bites or scratches you accidentally, immediately wash and disinfect the wound, and seek advice from a doctor.

·         Vet checkups: Get regular checkups from your vet to identify any impending health problems, including infectious diseases and parasites.

Understanding Zoonoses

Even if you have the most loving, caring, and playful dog around, there’s always a risk they could unwittingly make you sick. While zoonoses are rarely picked up by humans, it’s important to know which signs and symptoms to look out for to protect yourself.

Knowing which kinds of ailments and diseases your pup may be more susceptible to could help you to defend both their health and your own. A CirclePaw DNA test for dogs will give you insight into your dog’s DNA, so you can ensure you’re providing them with the right care, and become aware of any health conditions or diseases your dog is at higher risk of due to their DNA.


  1. AHA Journals: Dog Ownership and Survival
  2. CDC: Zoonotic Diseases
    https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/basics/zoonotic-diseases.html#:~:text=Scientists estimate that more than,States and around the world.
  3. CDC: Human Rabies
  4. CDC: Information for Pet Owners
  5. NCBI: Pet ownership increases human risk of encountering ticks

Other resources:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/leptospirosis/pets/symptoms/index.html
  2. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/campylobacter-infection-in-dogs
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/zoonosis#transmission
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/s0506-zoonotic-diseases-shared.html
  5. https://www.healthline.com/health/humans-catching-from-dogs