Can My Pet Make Me Sick?

All exotic pets, even ones that appear to be outwardly healthy, have the potential to carry and spread contagious diseases that can impact the health of people.  This sort of disease is called a "zoonosis", "zoonotic disease", or "zoonotic infection". 

Some of the zoonotic diseases, such as psittacosis, mycobacteriosis, and pentastomes, are very serious threats to you and your family members.  These diseases may be quite difficult to detect without regular health screenings and specific laboratory tests.  Since many zoonotic diseases are easily passed through feces, we strongly urge you to have at least one fecal parasite exam on your pet every six months and to have this done whenever your pet is showing any problems.

This information is intended for informational purposes only; please seek advice from your physician if you have a health condition. 

The risk of acquiring a disease from your exotic pet can be reduced by following these routine precautions:

  • Have your exotic pet examined by a veterinarian every 6-12 months.  A fecal parasite exam or other specific disease tests may be needed to check for other kinds of zoonotic diseases.  Please understand that laboratory tests are the only way to identify certain zoonotic diseases.
  • Always wash your hands with hot, soapy water after handling a pet, its cage, water bottle, food bowls, and toys, and after cleaning out is litter box or otherwise touching its urine or bowel movements.
  • Do not allow a pet to have access to the kitchen, dining room, or any other area in which food is prepared. Also, do not allow a pet to have access to bathroom sinks and tubs or to any area where infants are bathed. Consider keeping your pet caged or limited to only certain parts of the house.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling a pet, its cages, or its equipment. Do not kiss a pet or share food or drink with it.
  • Do not use the kitchen sink, kitchen counters, bathroom sinks or bathtubs to bathe your pet or to wash its cage, dishes or toys. Waste water and fecal material should be disposed of in the toilet instead of the bathtub or household sink. If you do contaminate a sink or bathing area, clean with a chlorinated cleansing powder and rinse thoroughly before using it for people.
  • Children less than five years of age should be closely supervised around pets.  If you have young children, talk to your physician about the steps to minimize risks associated with owning pets (even cats and dogs).
  • Children should be supervised when they are handling pets to ensure that they do not place their hands or objects that a pet has contacted in their mouths.
  • Immunocompromised persons should avoid contact with pets.

Information on this webpage is not meant to discourage pet ownership. With a few exceptions (for example, infants or immunocompromised individuals), most people have a low risk of acquiring a zoonotic disease from their pet. This risk can be reduced even further by following these simple precautions and having regularly scheduled wellness exams where your pet may be examined by a veterinarian and tested for diseases of concern.