Research has shown for many years that dogs have positive effects on the psychosocial and psychical health of their owners. And no doubt that snuggling up with your furry friend at home may seem like the perfect way to end a stressful day.
With that one healthy paw, the other paw must also drop: There is a risk your dog could spread harmful germs, illnesses, and diseases to you. You could catch a stomach bug or a more serious illness.
But you can take several steps to lessen that risk and make sure you — and your pet — stay healthy.
Short answer: Yes, they can.
Illnesses that pass between animals and humans are known as zoonotic diseases. They can be spread by farm or wild animals, as well as household pets like cats and dogs.
Harmful germs can spread quite easily from household pets, according to 2015 research — from stomach bugs, diarrhea, and minor skin infections to more serious health conditions. In fact, the close contact people have with household pets is a favorable condition for a bacterial infection to spread, 2016 research suggests.
A 2012 study based in Finland shows that noroviruses are one of the leading causes of diarrheal diseases among people of all age groups and that these can survive in dogs and be passed along to humans.
Even though infection — and the resulting sickness — isn’t likely, pets do carry germs that can make people sick. You can get these germs and illnesses from dogs in the following ways:
- They spread through contaminated food and treats, water bowls, or surfaces.
- You pick up your dog’s poop and then touch your eyes or near your mouth.
- You dog licks your face with their tongue and is carrying an infection.
- You sleep in the same bed as your dog.
- Your dog gives you cuts, scratches, or bites that break the skin.
There are a handful of viral, fungal, bacterial, and parasitic illnesses that pass between humans and animals, including household pets like your beloved dog.
Some of the possible illnesses that you might catch from your dog include:
This is a bacterial disease that causes a flu-like sickness in humans. Although rare, it can be spread through contact with animals carrying the bacteria, including dogs.
Symptoms can include:
- appetite loss
- back or abdomen pain
- weight loss
Notably, you could have brucellosis even if your contact with a dog carrying the bacteria occurred months ago. If you get this disease, it can take anywhere from 1 week to 2 months for symptoms to appear.
It’s often treated with antibiotics once diagnosed.
This bacterial infection can be spread to humans via contact with feces from both dogs and cats carrying the bacteria.
A person who gets the bacteria may experience gastroenteritis symptoms, such as:
- abdominal pain
These symptoms can appear 2 to 5 days after exposure. Typically, no treatment is necessary because the symptoms fade away within 1 week.
This type of bacterial infection is spread through the urine of a dog that has the bacteria. It can cause symptoms, including:
- high fever
- digestive discomfort
- aches and pains
This condition is rare in the United States and most symptoms are mild, but it can be transmitted from animals like household dogs.
This viral disease is rare in the United States due to pet vaccinations — only 1 in 3 cases are reported in humans each year. Rabies does spread from dogs to people, though. It can be passed along by bite or scratch.
Rabies can cause a variety of serious effects on the central nervous system, causing flu-like symptoms including fever, muscle weakness, and tingling. You may also feel burning at the bite site. By the time those symptoms appear, it’s often too late for treatment.
This is a skin and scalp disease caused by a fungus. It can be spread between animals, and through contact it can also be passed from dogs and cats to humans. Ringworm can also be spread by touching an object or surface that came in contact with the fungus — everything from bedding and carpeting to clothing, pet brushes, and food bowls.
Symptoms include a scaly, red, circular, itchy rash on the skin. On a cat or dog, the symptoms may be present on hairless areas, with scaling, red, and crusting spots. Skin medications can clear ringworm in 2 to 4 weeks.
Salmonellosis causes symptoms like fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. It can be spread to humans through contact with a dog that has the germ or with the dog’s feces or saliva. You can also get it if you come in contact with an item containing the germ and then touch your face or mouth.
This pet illness was linked to a 2019 outbreak stemming from pig ear treats, affecting dogs across the United States. Salmonella germs can be shed in pets’ stools for 4 to 6 weeks after infection.
One of the most common results of the above-mentioned illnesses may be gastroenteritis, or an upset stomach. This can sometimes be spread between people and their pets, to varying degrees and depending on what underlying infection they may have.
For people and pets experiencing this stomach bug, the symptoms can be similar:
- abdominal pain
- diarrhea, sometimes containing blood
- weight loss due to fluid loss
While it’s not specific to every illness, gastroenteritis may be transmitted between dogs and people through their stool or even saliva. In terms of salmonella and cats, in particular, it may be spread through litter boxes and as they roam through the home.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that “some ways dogs can spread the bacteria is when they give people kisses or have stool accidents inside the home. Pet waste from both sick and healthy pets can be a source of infection for people.”
As you might expect, those who are most at risk for catching a type of illness from their dog include:
- people ages 65 and older
- pregnant people
- immunocompromised people, who have a weakened immune system from medications, illness, pregnancy, or other health conditions like an organ transplant or treatment
The level of risk and who might develop a particular condition may also depend on other factors, including the specific bacteria, virus, fungus, or disease.
With that in mind, it’s best to stay mindful and contact your veterinarian or medical professional with any specific questions or concerns.
The best way to reduce or eliminated your risk of contracting zoonotic diseases from your dog is pretty simple. As you might suspect, it’s based on good hygiene and cleanliness practices.
- Clean up the poo: Pick up after your dog in a reasonable timeframe. Dispose of the feces in a sealed bag and avoid touching it with your hands or exposing it to clothing or surfaces you might touch.
- Wash your hands: Make sure to wash your hands with soap and warm water immediately after handling a dog or their feces, food and water bowls, or toys where a dog’s saliva might have spread germs.
- Doggo kisses: Don’t let dogs give you kisses on your face, especially not on or around your mouth, nose, or eyes. If you come into contact with their tongue despite your efforts, wash your face.
- See the pet vet: Regular checkups with your dog’s veterinarian can help identify health problems, including parasites or infectious diseases that can be spread between animals and humans.
- Vaccinations: These are important. Ensure that your dog (and you!) are current on all needed vaccinations. For your dog, that would include rabies, distemper, kennel cough, and canine parvovirus.
- Prevent bites and scratches: You can help do this by asking before petting another person’s dog, avoiding interactions with a dog that seems scared or angry, and not approaching unfamiliar dogs. If you or someone else does get scratched or bitten, immediately wash and disinfect the area. Seek any medical attention as needed.
Can ticks from dogs make people sick?
A 2017 clinical study shows that owning pets increases your risk of being bitten by a tick and potentially being exposed to various tick-borne illnesses. This is because pets may bring ticks onto the property and into the home, and people may engage in more activities outside with their pets in tick-filled areas.
While research is not conclusive on whether pet owners may experience higher rates of tick-borne disease than non-owners, about 20% of pet owners in three states during the 2017 study had a verified tick-borne illness. It makes sense that the more exposure to ticks you have, the higher your risk for one of these conditions might be.
Will I get sick from my dog licking me?
Expert opinions vary on whether dog kisses carry any serious health risk for people. Still, dogs can carry harmful germs, and some can pass through saliva and close contact.
Basic hygiene practices are the preferred ways to avoid these germs, even for those who agree that avoiding dog kisses most of the time is best. You should wash your face with soap and water afterward, before touching your mouth or eyes. Take extra care if you have open cuts or scrapes on your skin where a dog’s tongue may lick you.
Can dogs get sick from someone with a cold or the flu?
Human influenza viruses can affect dogs. Research from 2015 indicated this was possible with the 2009 H1N1 strains and H3N2 strains. But even though dogs can get germs from people, it doesn’t appear that the dogs actually experience any symptoms.
Can you catch diarrhea from a dog?
The campylobacter and salmonella disease can spread from dogs to people, possibly causing diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. Often, these germs can be found in the gastrointestinal tract and feces or diarrhea of dogs with the infection.
As a result, it can be transmitted from contaminated food or water or contact with feces. Preventive measures and basic hygiene are often the best ways to combat the condition in pets and people, as well as regular veterinary visits and pet care.
You can get sick from your dog. Several illnesses can spread through close contact, contaminated feces or urine, or even by sleeping in the same pet as your beloved pet.
But getting sick from your dog is rare, and you can take many commonsense steps to prevent this from happening. This might include washing your hands, limiting close contact if you or your dog is showing symptoms, and keeping your pet regularly vaccinated and seen by a qualified veterinarian.