Healthy Pets and People
There are many positive benefits of owning a pet; however, it's important to know that some animals may carry germs that can be spread to people and cause illness.
Pets can appear to be healthy even when they have germs. Here are a few tips to keep you and your family healthy.
Picking the Right Pet
Before you purchase or adopt a pet, make sure that it is the right one for you and your family. CDC recommends the following:
- Households with children under 5 years of age should not own reptiles, such as turtles, or amphibians, such as frogs.
- Pregnant women should avoid contact with pet rodents to prevent exposure to lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, which is a virus that can cause birth defects.
- Pregnant women should avoid adopting or handling stray cats, especially kittens. They particularly should not clean litter boxes to avoid getting toxoplasmosis from them.
- Immune-compromised persons and persons with HIV infection or AIDS should take extra precautions when choosing and handling pets. Talk to your veterinarian and health care provider to help make this decision.
Gastrointestinal (Enteric) Diseases from Animals
Check out CDC's Gastrointestinal (Enteric) Diseases from Animals website, your one-stop-shop for information about zoonotic outbreaks, prevention messages, and helpful resources.
To pick the right pet, do some research beforehand about the specific needs of the animal. Some questions to ask are: How much exercise does the pet need? How large will it become? Is the type of animal aggressive? What does the pet eat? How much will it cost for veterinary care? Do I have enough time to properly care for and clean-up after the pet? What exactly does this pet need in its habitat to be healthy? Are pets allowed in my apartment or condominium? How long will this animal live? See additional information about adopting a pet from the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Wash Hands Right after Touching Your Pet
- Adults should assist young children with hand washing. See more information on hand washing. See the CDC's Clean Hands site for more information on hand washing.
- Running water and soap are best for hand washing. Use hand sanitizers if running water and soap are not available. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water as soon as a sink is available.
- Call your health care provider if you or a family member are concerned about illness and be sure to tell them about the pets you have contact with.
- Contact your pet's veterinarian if you are concerned that your pet may be sick.
Many pets, such as dogs, cats, reptiles, rodents, and birds, carry germs that can be spread from animals to people. Always wash hands upon leaving areas where animals live (i.e. coops. barns, stalls, etc.) even if you did not touch an animal, after going to the toilet, before eating and drinking, before preparing food or drinks, and after removing soiled clothes or shoes.
It is also important to wash your hands right after handling pet foods and treats, which can be contaminated with bacteria and other germs. Pet food and treats might include dry dog or cat food, dog biscuits, pig ears, beef hooves, and rodents used to feed reptiles.
Keep Your Pet Healthy
Whether you have a horse, parakeet, or iguana, providing regular, life-long veterinary care is important to having a healthy pet and a healthy family. Keep up with your pet's vaccines, deworming, and flea and tick control. Provide your pet with a good diet, fresh water, clean bedding, and exercise. By keeping your pet healthy, you keep yourself and your family healthy. Regular veterinary visits are essential to good pet health. Contact your veterinarian if you have any questions about your pet's health.
Your pet may carry ticks that can spread serious diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever to people. In areas with plague, fleas present a risk to both animals and their owners. Consult your veterinarian about ways to prevent ticks and fleas on your pet.
Practice Good Hygiene Around Your Pet
Make sure to wash your hands right after touching an animal, cleaning up after your pet, and before eating or preparing foods. Make sure to remove your dog's feces from your yard or public places by using a device or bag, and dispose of in proper areas. Dog feces contain many types of bacteria, some of which can be harmful to people. Keep young children away from areas that may contain dog or cat feces to prevent the spread of roundworms and hookworms. Cover sand boxes so cats don't use them as a litter box. Clean the cat's litter box daily. Pregnant woman should not change a cat's litter box, because cats can carry a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, which is a disease that can cause birth defects. Get more information on toxoplasmosis and cats.
Rabies can kill your dog or cat and can even kill you. Get your pet, especially dogs, cats, and other mammals, vaccinated for rabies by a licensed veterinarian. Talk to your veterinarian about whether or not other pets need a rabies vaccine. Make sure your pet gets and wears a tag with its vaccine history, name, and your contact information. Keep your pet in a fenced yard or on a leash. See more information about preventing rabies and dog bites.
Keep Wildlife Wild
Though they may be cute and cuddly, don't encourage wild animals such as raccoons, prairie dogs, or wild rodents to come into your home by feeding them. You may find a young animal that appears to be abandoned and want to rescue it, but often its parent is close by. Refrain from touching wild animals and their habitats, as many carry germs, viruses, and parasites.
Teach Children How to Appropriately Care for Pets
Children younger than 5 years old should be supervised while interacting with animals. Teach children to wash their hands right after playing with animals or anything in the animals' environment (e.g., cages, beds, food and water dishes). Children younger than 5 years old should be extra cautious when visiting farms and having direct contact with farm animals, including animals at petting zoos and fairs. See more information on safety at petting zoos and animal exhibits.
Enjoy Your Pet!
There are many health benefits of owning a pet. The companionship of pets can help manage loneliness and depression. Pets can increase your opportunities to exercise, participate in outdoor activities, and socialize. Therefore, regular walking or playing with pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Remember, healthy pets = healthy people!
- Visit CDC's Healthy Pets Healthy People site for more information on how you and your pet can stay healthy.
- Visit CDC’s Gastrointestinal (Enteric) Diseases from Animals site, your one-stop-shop for information about zoonotic outbreaks, prevention messages, and helpful resources.
- Visit CDC's Clean Hands Save Lives! site for more information on hand washing.
- Visit CDC's Rabies site for more information on rabies.
- Visit CDC's Dog Bite Prevention site for more information on how to prevent dog bites
- Read CDC's Stay Healthy at Animal Exhibits This Summer feature
- Read CDC's Toxoplasmosis fact sheet
- Read the Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings, 2013
- Educational Posters (available in English, Spanish, and French)
- Pets Can Make People Sick: Medscape Video Commentary
- Visit the American Veterinary Medical Association's Care for Animals site
- Page last reviewed: May 28, 2014
- Page last updated: May 28, 2014
- Content source:
- National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs