Sometimes it’s difficult to associate cute, furry animals with harboring pathogens that can make us ill or worse.  However, animals represent one of the biggest threats to humans in terms of spreading disease.

In fact, more than 75 percent of all emerging, infectious diseases are zootonic, or transmitted from animals to humans.

One of the most important things that we can do now, as well as in a survival situation, is to be cautious when handling animals or interacting with their habitats.  Let’s take a look at some of the most-common diseases that are passed on from animals to humans, so that you can take steps to minimize risk whenever possible.


These parasitic worms grow in the small intestines of a variety of mammals, including cats and dogs.  The most-common route of exposure is from feces-to-skin contact, particularly when walking in areas where animals have defecated.  Eggs and larvae can burrow into the skin where they feed, grow and thrive for weeks before they die off.


We often associate tapeworm infections with eating contaminated or under-cooked pork.  However, tapeworms are common in all vertebrates, including fish, poultry and beef products.  Tapeworms can grow to more than 50 feet in length, and they can also survive in the intestines of a host for more than 30 years.  The most-common signs of an infection include diarrhea, abdominal pain and a loss of appetite.  However, there have been some cases where tapeworms make their way to the brain, and this can lead to a host of neurological problems in addition to severe, persistent headaches.


The Toxoplasma gondii parasite is one of the most-common in the world, and infections are usually caused from eating undercooked meat or coming into contact with cat feces.  Fortunately, the majority of people who become infected will never develop any symptoms.  However, those with compromised immune systems can develop life-threatening or chronic conditions that may be difficult to treat.  The infection can also be passed from a mother to her child during pregnancy, putting both at risk.


This infection comes from exposure to a common parasite that is found in water, soil as well as in the feces of a variety of animals.  Symptoms of infection include severe, watery diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, fever, severe stomach cramps, dehydration and weight loss.  Infections usually run their course within a couple of weeks, but it’s crucial to make sure the victim is well-hydrated and nourished.


This is a bacterial infection that is passed through the urine of a wide-range of mammals.  Unfortunately, this disease doesn’t produce symptoms in animals.  Infections occur after coming into contact with urine, or anything, including soil, that may have been contaminated.  Symptoms include the rapid onset of a high fever, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, abdominal pain, diharrea, skin rash and redness of the eyes.  It can take up to 3 weeks for symptoms to emerge after exposure, and left untreated, it can take months before the infection is resolved.

Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list, and there are hundreds of other zootonic pathogens that can cause a variety of health problems in humans.  Fortunately, you can significantly-reduce the chances of exposure by following basic guidelines such as properly handling and cooking meat or wearing gloves and mask when working the soil or around areas where animal waste may be present.  Remember that prevention is key, and following these simple steps can help you and your family to avoid getting sick in the midst of a crisis.