Healthy Pets and People
Pets provide many benefits to people. However, some pets can carry harmful germs that can be shared with people. Pets can appear to be healthy even when they have germs. Know how to stay healthy while enjoying pets.
Here are a few tips to keep you and your family healthy.
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. Regular walking or playing with pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Remember, healthy pets = healthy people!
Picking the Right Pet
Before you adopt a new pet, make sure that it is the right one for you and your family. To pick the right pet, do some research beforehand about the specific needs of the animal. Some questions to ask are: How long will this animal live? What does the pet eat? How much exercise does the pet need? How large will it become? How much will it cost for veterinary care? Do I have enough time to properly care for and clean-up after the pet? What type of habitat does this pet need to be healthy? How often do I need to clean up after my pet? Are pets allowed in my apartment or condominium? Are there any age or health considerations of the people who will care for or be around the pet?
Infants and children less than 5 years old, people with weakened immune systems, and people older than 65 years are more likely than most people to get sick from diseases shared between animals and people (also known as zoonotic diseases or zoonoses).
CDC recommends the following:
- Households with children under 5 years of age should not have pet reptiles, amphibians, or backyard poultry because of the risk of serious illness from harmful germs shared between these animals and young children.
- 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 a new cat or handling stray cats, especially kittens. Cats can carry a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis—a disease that can cause birth defects. Pregnant women do not need to give up their current pet cat. Pregnant women should avoid changing cat litter if possible. If no one else can perform the task, pregnant women should wear disposable gloves and wash their hands with soap and warm water afterwards. Additionally, ensure that the cat litter box is changed daily. Changing the litter box daily can lower the possibility of exposure to the parasites that could cause toxoplasmosis, because the Toxoplasma parasite does not become infectious until 1 to 5 days after it is shed in a cat’s feces. Get more information on toxoplasmosis and cats.
- People with weakened immune systems or immunocompromised persons should take extra precautions when choosing and handling pets. Talk to your veterinarian and health care provider to help pick the best pet.
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?
Wash hands right after being around pets.
Wash Hands Right after Being Around Pets
Whether you are playing with your pet, feeding your pet [906 KB], or cleaning up after your pet, it is important to wash your hands to help reduce the risk of illness with germs that can be shared between people and pets.
- Adults should always 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. Always wash hands
- Upon leaving areas where animals live (e.g. 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.
- 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. Your pet’s veterinarian can also be a valuable source of information on diseases shared between animals and people.
Keep Your Pet Healthy
Whether you have a dog, cat, horse, parakeet, gerbil, or bearded dragon, providing regular, life-long veterinary care is important to having a healthy pet and a healthy family. Regular veterinary visits are essential to good pet health. Talk to your pet’s veterinarian about how to keep your pet healthy. Provide your pet with a good diet, fresh water, clean bedding, and plenty of exercise. Keep up with your pet’s vaccines, deworming, and flea and tick control. By keeping your pet healthy, you help to keep yourself and your family healthy. Contact your veterinarian if you have any questions about your pet’s health.
Some pets may carry ticks that can spread serious diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever to people. In areas with plague—including some rural areas in the western US—fleas present a risk to both animals and their owners. Consult your veterinarian about ways to prevent ticks and fleas on your pet.
Keep your pets healthy.
Avoid touching wildlife.
Tips for Good Pet Hygiene
Make sure to remove your dog’s feces (poop) from your yard or public places by using a bag, and dispose of it in proper areas. Dog feces can contain several types of germs that can be harmful to people. Keep young children away from areas that may contain dog or cat feces (poop) 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 to lower the chances of exposure to harmful parasites. Remember, pregnant women should avoid changing a cat’s litter box if possible (see CDC recommendations above).
Keep Wildlife Wild
Though they may be cute and cuddly, avoid touching wild animals to reduce the risk of illness and injury. 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. If you are concerned about the safety of a wild animal, contact a local wildlife rehabilitation facility.
Teach Children How to Appropriately Interact with Animals
Pets can teach children compassion and responsibility. However, children younger than 5 years of age should be supervised while interacting with animals to ensure the safety of the child and the pet. 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).
Adults should be present to supervise and ensure extra caution is taken when children younger than 5 years of age are 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.
- 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.
- Learn more about how CDC uses a One Health approach.
- Page last reviewed: May 8, 2017
- Page last updated: May 8, 2017
- 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