Can a Pet's Kiss Make You Sick?



An Ohio woman came out of a 10-day coma to find that her legs and parts of her arms had been amputated due to an infection. The cause of the bacterial infection was a lick from one of her two dogs. However, pet parents should first understand the facts about this illness rather than going into a panic. 


The woman contracted the infection from capnocytophaga, a common bacteria that lives in the mouths of dogs and cats. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while this bacteria doesn’t make felines or canines sick, it can cause illness in humans. After being transmitted through close contact with an animal’s saliva, such as through a bite or lick, the bacteria can lead to symptoms like fever, diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, headache and muscle pain. In rare cases, it can result in serious complications such as heart attack, kidney failure, gangrene and limb amputation. 


About 3 in 10 people who develop a severe capnocytophaga infection die, says the CDC. The infections can quickly lead to sepsis, causing death within 24 to 72 hours after symptoms start.


The Ohio patient said her German Shepherd puppy licked a cut that was slightly infected. She experienced a backache and nausea, and drastic changes in her temperature sent her to the ER. She developed blood clots and gangrene, which made amputation of her limbs necessary. She has spent a total of 80 days in the hospital and is hoping to move to a rehabilitation facility soon. Her dogs have visited her in the hospital and she does not plan to give them away. 


While pet parents could experience serious anxiety from this headline, they should understand that illness caused by capnocytophaga is incredibly rare. However, certain populations are more susceptible to getting sick from it. According to the CDC, those who abuse alcohol, do not have a spleen or are taking drugs that are toxic to cells—such as chemotherapy—have a higher risk of infection, as do people who have a condition that compromises their immune system such as cancer, diabetes or HIV. The bacteria can also cause complications in pregnant women.


The CDC recommends that pet owners should take steps to prevent dog bites and engage in safe interactions with their animals. After petting or playing with a dog or cat, pet parents should wash their hands with soap and water. They should also be wary of letting their pets lick open wounds. 


By knowing the facts about this rare illness as well as taking precautions in interacting with their animal companions, pet parents can lay their fears aside and engage with their pets in a safe and healthy manner.


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