Is your pet making you sick? - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Is your pet making you sick?

Americans love pets. More than half of U.S. households have at least one dog or cat. These four-legged family members give us so much - companionship, comfort and unconditional love.

Unfortunately, they can also give us a number of diseases. If you have pets, you'll want to pay close attention to this report on how to keep your family healthy and safe.

Because we live so close to our pets, it's important to know the cats and dogs we share our homes and beds with often carry parasites, bacteria and viruses that can make us sick. A zoonotic disease is anything that's transmissible between animals and humans.

Dr. Heather Oxford is a veterinarian and former epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control. She says there are more than 100 Zoonotic diseases you can catch from your pet, but several are especially common.

"Bartonellosis is actually a bacterial disease. An infected cat can scratch or bite you, even during play. Cats get Bartonellosis from a flea bite. You can then become infected from a bite or scratch and develop flu-like symptoms. Since it does come from a flea, the best thing you can do if you do have a cat is to keep flea prevention on the cat," says Dr. Oxford.

The other thing that you can do is try not to engage in rough play with your pet.

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease, contracted mostly by outdoor cats who have eaten infected birds or rodents.

"Cats will shed millions of these parasites in their feces. One of the ways that you can prevent getting it from your cat is by changing the litter box every day, because the parasites take at least a day to become infectious. For most people, toxoplasmosis symptoms are very mild. But it does pose a grave danger to pregnant women and their unborn children," she explains. "The parasite will actually travel through the placenta, affect the fetus, and this is only if the pregnant mother becomes infected during her pregnancy. So if the woman is already infected before she's pregnant, she already has developed antibodies and so her fetus now has those maternal antibodies. The real risk is if you don't know your status."

Pregnant women should follow two basic preventative measures.

Dr. Oxford says, "As long as you're practicing good hygiene and washing your hands after petting your cat, and you're having your husband or someone else clean the litter box for you every day, then you're pretty much safe from contracting it from your cat."

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