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Staying Healthy Around Animals

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When you spend time around an animal—whether it's a pet, a farm animal, or a wild animal—there's a chance you can pick up an infection. Some infections can seem mild, but others can be quite serious. So it's a good idea to learn about your risks and how to protect yourself and other people. People who are most in need of protection are children under age 5, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems.

An infection you get from an animal is called a zoonosis (say "zoh-uh-NOH-sus"). You can get a zoonosis from a mammal, a reptile, an amphibian, or a bird. It could be a pet, an animal at a farm or a petting zoo, or a wild animal that passes infection on to you.

Zoonosis may be caused by a bacteria, virus, or fungus, or by a parasite, such as a tapeworm.

It's not just touching an animal that can expose you to an infection. You can get infected when you:

Preventing infections

Washing your hands well may be all you need to do to prevent infection from some animals. But with others, you need to do more than simple hand washing.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control site at to learn more about infections from animals.

Helping children stay healthy

Follow these steps to help your child avoid infections from animals.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control site at to learn more about infections from animals.

Staying healthy if you are pregnant

When you're pregnant, be extra careful around animals, foods from animals, and animal waste. Follow these steps to protect your unborn baby from dangerous infections from animals or animal products.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control site at to learn more about infections from animals.

Infections you can get from pets

Even pets that seem to be healthy can spread disease. Infections you can get from pets include:

Cat-scratch fever.

This causes swelling and pain in the lymph nodes and loss of appetite. In most cases, it occurs after a scratch, bite, or lick in an open wound from a cat or kitten.

Campylobacter and cryptosporidium.

These cause diarrhea, cramping, stomach pain, fever, and vomiting. You can be infected when you handle feces from a dog, a cat, or a farm animal. Be especially careful around an animal with diarrhea.

Hookworms and roundworms.

These can cause stomach pain, bleeding, swelling, diarrhea, and sometimes painful skin irritation. You can get these tiny worms from animal feces.


This can affect the brain and spinal cord. It is nearly always fatal if not treated before symptoms appear. You can be infected when you handle an infected pet or wild animal, especially if you are bitten or scratched.


This causes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. You can be infected by handling reptiles, baby chicks and ducklings, and small rodents such as hamsters and guinea pigs.


This can cause no symptoms or a mild flu-like illness. Toxoplasmosis can be dangerous for a pregnant woman's developing baby (fetus) and for someone with a weak immune system. You can get it by touching an infected cat, its feces, or something that the cat has touched.

Infections you can get from farm and wild animals

E. coli is a common infection that can cause a dangerous type of diarrhea. You can be infected by cattle on a farm or by sheep or goats in a petting zoo.

Other serious but less common infections include:

Q Fever.

This can cause flu-like illness, diarrhea, vomiting, and chest or stomach pain. It is dangerous for people with heart valve problems. You can be infected by manure or dust from areas where cattle, sheep, or goats live, or from unpasteurized milk.

Brucellosis infection.

This can cause serious long-term illness. It starts with flu-like symptoms. You can be infected by unpasteurized milk or cheese, or undercooked meat from an infected animal. Herd animals on the farm and in the wild can be infected. Hunters and animal handlers beware—you can also breathe in the bacteria when you handle infected meat, hides, or wool.

Hantavirus and lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV).

These can cause serious illness. LCMV is also dangerous for a pregnant woman's fetus. You can be infected by breathing in dust from rodent bedding or mouse urine and droppings, or from a mouse bite.


This is nearly always fatal if it's not treated before symptoms appear. You can be infected if you get scratched or bitten by an infected wild animal. Bats are the most common carriers of rabies.

Credits for Staying Healthy Around Animals

Current as of: February 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Leslie Tengelsen PhD, DVM - Zoonotic Disease

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