Feature Article

Pet-related infections: what can you catch from your pet?

Karina J Kennedy, Peter J Collignon



Pet-related infections range from self-limited skin conditions to life-threatening systemic illnesses. Some of the more frequent or serious infections are reviewed here.

Key Points

  • A history of contact with pet animals should be sought whenever there is an unusual manifestation of infection.
  • Transmission of infections from pets to humans can be reduced by preventing disease in animals, treating unwell pets, not allowing pets access to beaches and playgrounds, removing animal faeces from backyards and public areas washing hands after animal contact, and appropriately managing animal bites.
  • Antibiotics are indicated for all cat bites, dog bites at high risk for infection and infected bites.
  • Avoidance of toxoplasmosis is particularly important in pregnant women as congenital infection may result in fetal death, neurological impairment, chorioretinitis or cytopenias. Prevention includes avoidance of cat faeces or anything possibly contaminated with cat faeces, such as kitty litter, soil and raw vegetables, and not eating undercooked meat that could contain tissue cysts.
  • Specific antimicrobial therapy is generally not indicated for toxoplasmosis. Exceptions include infections in immunocompromised patients, disseminated disease in immunocompetent patients, infection during pregnancy, and cases of chorioretinitis or congenital toxoplasmosis.
  • Although there is no rabies in Australia, travellers should be aware that domestic dogs are the main reservoir worldwide of the rabies virus.