When you’re not feeling well, sometimes all you need to feel better is plenty of rest, fluids, and love from your dog. But what if you run the risk of your dog getting sick, too? While it is rare, there are some illnesses that you might be able to pass on to your pup.
Colds primarily affect the upper respiratory tract, so symptoms usually include a runny or stuffy nose, headaches, coughing, and a sore throat. It is spread through droplets from when we cough or sneeze. The good news is that these viruses are specific to humans, and so your dog can’t get a cold from you.
One of the most highly contagious dog illnesses is canine influenza. While there is little evidence to support the transmission from pets to people and vice versa, dogs can quickly spread this illness to other dogs housed within the same building. Clinical signs of canine influenza include sneezing, coughing, runny nose, fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy. In a few cases, it can spread to the lungs and cause pneumonia.
For most patients, veterinarians may recommend oral antibiotics to help with any secondary bacterial infections, cough medication, and other supportive care based on clinical signs. If pneumonia is suspected, then your dog may need to be hospitalized and provided with oxygen therapy. There is a vaccine available for the two strains of canine influenza in the US, and it is very effective.
Mumps is a contagious virus that affects certain salivary glands called the parotid glands. In humans, these are located below the ears and face. When someone has mumps, the parotid salivary glands become inflamed and cause puffy swelling around the face and lower jaw. Mumps can also cause fever and headache, and in worse cases, it can cause deafness and swelling in the tissue around the brain.
This illness can be spread by coughing and sneezing or by sharing items that have contacted the saliva of a mumps patient (e.g. drinking cup). When dogs are affected by mumps, they can develop similar clinical signs such as fever, facial swelling, lethargy, and lack of appetite. Like with influenza, dogs are treated with supportive care and sometimes medication for their fever until the infection resolves in five to ten days.
Salmonella is a bacterium that can be found in raw, uncooked foods. When humans develop clinical signs – a condition known as salmonellosis – they can develop diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. Most people affected by Salmonella improve after a few days while others can develop severe dehydration and may need to be hospitalized.
Dogs can develop salmonellosis from contact with feces (e.g. if a dog drinks from the toilet of a person with salmonellosis) or from raw food. The latter is quite controversial with the recent popularity of raw food diets for dogs. While advocates purport that there may be benefits to a raw food diet, the growing concern is that raw diets could make dogs and their owners very sick. A recent study from the University of Liverpool suggested that raw food diets increase the risk of contact with very pathogenic strains of bacteria, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter 1 .
Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium that is spread through coughing and sneezing, and it spreads to the lungs. Infections can be latent for several years, and active infection can be fatal if left untreated. Clinical signs include fever, weight loss, and a cough persisting for more than three weeks. Although uncommon, dogs can become infected by humans with an active infection. Dogs with tuberculosis usually have a poor prognosis and do not respond to the same treatments used in humans.
Ringworm is not a type of worm. It is a fungal infection that can cause round, red, ring-like skin lesions on the body. These lesions may or may not be itchy, and in dogs, they can also cause hair loss. Ringworm is acquired via contact with spores, and these spores can exist on pets, people, and in the dirt and soil.
People can give these infections to pets and vice versa. Treatment usually involves a topical anti-fungal cream and, in severe cases, an oral anti-fungal medication.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a kind of bacteria that is resistant to some of the antibiotics that we have available today. It is most commonly found in hospital/medical care facilities but can be present in community areas and is transmitted by contact. It can present as a mild skin infection or can be more serious in other parts of the body, like the urinary tract or surgical sites.
Dogs can get this bacterium from us through contact, though it is more of a risk for very young or immunosuppressed patients. If a dog has a skin lesion or a surgery site that isn’t healing, or if they have an infection that isn’t responding to treatment, then culture testing may reveal an infection with MRSA.
Giardia is a parasite that can be found in water sources like rivers, streams, or even standing water after it rains. It can be shed through fecal-oral transmission and can cause profuse watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, bloating, and nausea. People with giardiasis can improve after a few days, but others may need oral medications and sometimes fluid therapy if severely dehydrated. Giardia can be very stubborn to remove from the environment, and bleach cleaners should be used for cleaning toilets, etc. Dogs can get giardia from us if they drink water from the toilet, and they can get giardia in the same ways that we can.
As mentioned above, humans can get ringworm and Salmonella from their dogs. Here are a few other illnesses worth mentioning.
Rabies is a highly contagious and often fatal virus that is transmitted through bites from an infected animal. Contact with saliva through an open wound or a scratch is rare but possible. Bats, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, and foxes are higher on the list of wildlife that could carry rabies.
Most people think that rabies is easy to identify, that all infected animals show aggressive behavior and foaming at the mouth. However, rabies can also be a concern in animals with neurologic signs like staggering when they walk or having dulled senses. Some feral animals may seem friendly and calm even though they are normally scared and try to hide from humans.
It is important to keep your dog’s rabies vaccine up to date. The vaccine is highly effective at preventing rabies, and all dogs are at risk, including indoor dogs. This is because animals like bats and raccoons can get into your home through open windows, doors, and even your roof. Or from boarding your dog and they then come in contact from another dog while playing. If your dog is bitten and is not protected, and if that unprotected dog bites you, then you may need to go through expensive rabies prophylaxis treatments. Also, your dog could die if left unprotected.
Certain kinds of intestinal parasites like roundworm and hookworm can be transmitted from dogs to people. Worms eggs can be ingested or transmitted like heart worm. or worms like hookworms, which have teeth, can bite and migrant into tissues like skin and even your eyes, causing blindness. It is important to have your dog’s stool checked regularly and use preventive deworming medications from your veterinarian. If your dog has intestinal parasites, then it is important to carefully dispose of all stools in your yard and avoid walking barefoot where they go to the bathroom.
Most of the illnesses that dogs can get from us occur very rarely, usually in pets who are very young or ill and therefore have a compromised immune system. With routine veterinary check-ups, some of these illnesses can be detected early. Dogs who are healthy usually have a lower risk of contracting these diseases. Proper diet, clean water, supplements if needed, and regular exercise are all important in keeping your dog healthy.
The fact that we can share some of our sicknesses with our dogs can be scary. However, it is a rare occurrence, and with proper precautions, you can keep your dog healthy and happy for years to come.
Dr. Erica Irish
Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.