Less Common Zoonotic Diseases And Small Mammal Pets

Campylobacteriosis, listeriosis and leptospirosis are three of the less common diseases people can get from pets.

No matter the pet, it's always a good idea to wash your hands thoroughly after touching them or cleaning their habitat. Incygneia/Pixabay

By Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM

Zoonotic diseases continue to be a major concern amongst pet owners, particularly those with children or those who may be experiencing immunosuppression due to other diseases, medications or cancer therapies. As a reminder, zoonotic diseases are diseases that can transfer from animals to people. I previously posted blogs about the most common ones like ringworm and Salmonella. In this article, I will focus on less commonly reported bacteria that can transfer from pets and cause illness in people.


This group of bacteria is one of the most commonly identified sources of food-borne disease, especially through undercooked chicken, improperly prepared dairy products and contaminated produce. While contaminated food and water appears to be the primary method of human exposure, it is possible that these bacteria can be transmitted by pets, including hamsters and ferrets. In humans, campylobacteriosis (disease caused by Campylobacter) causes disease in the digestive tract and results in a variety of clinical signs, including:

  • Abdominal cramps/pain
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
  • Nausea

Very young children, the elderly and those who are immunosuppressed can develop life-threatening complications from this disease. The main route of transmission is fecal-oral.

Prevention of campylobacteriosis is mainly aimed at good hygiene and cooking practices.

  1. People are strongly recommended to wash their hands thoroughly after handling their pets or cleaning cages and litter boxes.
  2. Do not kiss your pet.
  3. Keep pets away from food preparation sites.

Listeria Monocytogenes

This particular bacterium is infrequently seen in pets, but rare reports have identified it in some rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets. This particular bacterium is widespread in the environment in soil, streams, mud and plants. Animals can often be asymptomatic carriers of the disease. Certain animals, especially ruminants, can show neurological signs as well as spontaneous abortions. Humans that develop Listeria-related disease develop clinical signs, such as:

  • Loss of pregnancy or infant death
  • Headaches, stiff neck, confusion
  • Loss of balance or seizures

Prevention of disease again focuses on cooking practices and hygiene.

  1. Thoroughly cook food items.
  2. Wash fresh produce well with clean, running water.
  3. Practice good hygiene by washing hands with soapy water after handling pets.


While frequently seen in wild rodents, there have been isolated reports of Leptospira bacteria found in pet ferrets. This group of bacteria is spread by animals through the urine. Thus, transmission to people can occur through the ingestion of food that has been contaminated by infected urine, by accidental inhalation of urine-contaminated bedding, soil or food/water particles, or by entering through cuts on the skin.

Humans afflicted with leptospirosis suffer from disorders of the urinary system (including renal failure), fever, respiratory problems, muscle pain, vomiting/diarrhea, red eyes, liver failure and meningitis.

Preventing leptospirosis involves:

  1. Avoiding contact with infected urine.
  2. Practicing good hygiene.

When in doubt, wear gloves when handling litter or bedding and ALWAYS wash hands thoroughly after handling your pet. Simple precautions such as these can reduce the chance of developing a zoonotic disease.

Note: All articles by Dr. Materi are meant for educational purposes only and in no way represent any particular individual or case. They are not for diagnostic purposes. If your pet is sick, please take him or her to a veterinarian.

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Critters · Lifestyle