Yes, humans can get their pets sick: Reverse zoonoses more common than once thought
For as long as humans have been domesticating animals, there have been zoonoses, also known as infectious diseases that jump from animals to humans. Recent public health stories about COVID-19, avian flu and swine flu have thrust zoonoses back into the spotlight, sparking conversations about how animals like pets, rodents, birds or livestock might make humans sick.
But people should also pay attention to disease transmission in the opposite direction, said Benjamin Anderson, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University of Florida’s College of Public Health and Health Professions and member of the Emerging Pathogens Institute. Anderson is also a member of the UF One Health Center of Excellence. In June 2023, he and his colleagues published a comprehensive review of studies documenting instances of reverse zoonosis, or human-to-animal disease transmission, involving virus, bacteria, fungal and parasitic pathogens. The paper warned that pets, which share beds, kisses, snuggles and dining areas with humans, are at risk of catching diseases from their owners.
“We’re starting to see a lot of examples of reverse zoonosis. Pets are more susceptible than, maybe, we previously thought,” Anderson said.