When Should I Worry About...

Can My Dog Get Me Sick?

April 14, 2021 - Katie McCallum

If our social feeds are any indication of how much we love our dogs, the answer is a lot. We let them into our hearts, we let them into our lives — a lot of us even let them sleep with us in our beds. Given how close we are with our dogs (and the fact that they're not all that concerned about hygiene), it can make you wonder: Can my dog get me sick?

"Most of the everyday illnesses we're used to hearing about don't cross back and forth between dogs and humans, but there are some diseases our dogs can spread to us," says Dr. Wesley Long, director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist.

Dr. Long says the three most common ways for your dog to get you sick are through:

  • Their saliva (usually through a bite)
  • Their poop
  • Ticks and fleas

But, my fellow dog lovers, there's no need to fret. Here's everything you need to know about staying healthy while sharing your home with your furry roomie.

You can't get a cold or the flu from your dog

"The viruses that cause common colds have, over time, become specifically adapted to living in people — not dogs," explains Dr. Long. "This means that the common cold can't be passed between you and your dog."

The same goes for the seasonal flu that we prepare for every year. In fact, dogs have their own version of the flu, called canine influenza. And this type of influenza is specific to infection with dogs — so you don't have to worry about picking up the flu from your dog either.

And, since we're in the middle of a pandemic, you're probably also wondering if your four-legged friend can give you COVID. Right now, the CDC says that there's "no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19" — the risk is likely to be very low.

Other infections can be spread through a dog bite

One of the most common ways to pick up an illness or infection from a dog is through saliva. But, it's important to know that it usually takes a bite or skin abrasion for a dog's germs to cause infection in a person. This means you can continue to let you dog lick your face — if that's your thing.

"Most of the germs spread via a dog bite are part of a dog's normal mouth flora. While it's normal for a dog to have these germs in their mouth, it's not normal for you to come into direct contact with them," Dr. Long explains. "But, again, it typically takes a bite or contact with an existing skin abrasion for the germs found in a dog's saliva to cause illness in a person."

The following illnesses can be spread through a dog bite:

  • Rabies – although very rarely spread from dogs to humans in the U.S., this can be a fatal disease in both dogs and humans
  • Pasteurella – one of the most frequently isolated germs from dog bites that can cause tenderness, pain and swelling
  • Capnocytophaga – a germ that causes serious infection and can ultimately lead to sepsis and meningitis
  • Brucella – occurs most commonly in farm settings, with symptoms ranging from fever to body aches

Your dog's feces can contain infectious germs

Just like in humans, germs that cause diarrhea in dogs are highly infectious. And some of these germs can also cause illness in humans.

In addition, some parasitic worms that can infect both you and your dog — including roundworms, tapeworms and hookworms — can shed their eggs in a dog's feces.

This means that if your dog is infected with a parasite or germ that causes diarrhea, you're at risk for infection while cleaning up after your pet.

The three most common illnesses that spread from dog to human through fecal transmission are:

  • Gastrointestinal bugs – including Salmonella, Campylobacter, Giardia, which can cause gastroenteritis in humans
  • Parasitic diseases – including giardiasis, toxocariasis, cutaneous larva migrans, echinococcosis and dipylidiasis, which can cause symptoms from diarrhea to cysts and lesions in various organs
  • Drug-resistant bacteria – including metronidazole-resistant C. difficile and carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, which can be difficult to treat

Infections can be passed from any fleas or ticks your dog might carry

As it turns out, all of that money you spend on flea and tick medicine doesn't just benefit your pup — it benefits you, too. If your dog is carrying fleas or ticks, it's possible that the insects themselves are carrying a number of germs that cause illness depending on where you live, including:

  • Lyme disease – tick-borne inflammatory disease with many painful symptoms, one of the earliest being skin lesions
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever – tick-borne disease that causes fever, headache and rash
  • Ehrlichiosis – tick-borne disease that causes headache, chills and fatigue
  • Babesiosis – tick-borne disease that has characteristics ranging from causing no symptoms to severe hemolytic anemia
  • Tularemia – spread by both ticks and fleas, results in abrupt fever, headache and fatigue
  • Yersinia pestis – associated most commonly with the bubonic plague, this bacterium is transmitted by fleas and can cause fever and swollen lymph nodes

4 health tips for dog owners

To lower your risk of catching an infection or illness from your pet, Dr. Long recommends:

  • Keeping up with your dog's health, including staying up to date on his or her recommended vaccinations and heart worm medication
  • Promptly treating your dog's diarrhea, as well as taking care when cleaning up after him or her
  • Keeping your dog free of fleas and/or ticks
  • Washing your hands after picking up after your dog or coming into contact with his or her saliva
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Categories: When Should I Worry About...