Zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. When dog owners think of the types of disease that can spread from dogs to humans, the most terrifying virus comes to mind: rabies. This virus has a fascinating history, one well-documented in the book Rabid by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy. The authors note that in 300 B.C., Aristotle wrote about a disease we now refer to as rabies. Although early civilizations did not have a name for it and did not know about viruses, they recognized the connection between dog bites and the symptoms of rabies. Presenting themselves within a few days after being bitten, these symptoms included delirium, confusion, hallucinations and fear of water (hydrophobia), and proved virtually fatal to anyone infected. Since rabies vaccinations are required for all dogs in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control reports only one to three cases a year.
Rabies is not the only zoonotic disease that can spread from dogs (and other animals) to humans. They can also transmit ringworm, roundworm, Leptospirosis, Lyme disease and Giardia to name a few. The symptoms for Leptospirosis in humans, often contracted through a cut or abrasion, can be flu-like and can also be fatal. Lyme disease is not transmitted directly from dogs to humans, but dogs can bring disease-carrying ticks into the house, which then can find a human host.
The Leptospirosis and Lyme vaccines are not required for dogs, and are known to cause adverse reactions in some. Ask your veterinarian if these vaccinations are recommend and appropriate for yours. The best way to prevent zoonotic diseases is maintaining a regular vaccination schedule for your pup and maintaining good hygiene (e.g., washing your hands after handling your dog). You could also try not kissing your dog. Yeah, right.