When we think about disease or illness transmission between animals and people, it’s more often that we’re thinking about what animals (be they wild or companion animals) can give to us rather than the potential for humans to spread something to animals.
However, when you’re down and out with an illness and Fluffy curls right up with you to act as your nursemaid, you may start to grow a little seed in your mind that, in the thick of your fever, grows into a giant question: Will my cherished pet catch my illness?
Lay back and take a deep breath. Your four-legged nurse is probably safe. There was a lot of hubbub when an infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University said that it was completely safe for you to cuddle with your pets when you are under the weather. William Schaffner, M.D. is a professor of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and he said that if your pet is a comfort to you, go ahead and cuddle up.
Most articles about this subject have mentioned that cold and flu viruses can’t spread from pets to people, and they also imply that our pets are safe from our strains, too. While it’s true that we can’t catch influenza from our pets, the reverse is not true. Our pets, especially cats and ferrets, are susceptible to human influenza, although transmission is rare.
We can also spread other diseases, like MRSA and E. coli, to our pets. The term for this is reverse zoonosis — when animals contract illness from humans. Like I said, considering how often humans get sick from animals, reverse zoonosis is rare.
If you’re feeling under the weather and your pet wants to snuggle you back to health, go ahead. There’s nothing quite like the comfort of a warm, cuddly pet in bed while you convalesce. Just keep in mind that the risk is there, albeit very, very small, of spreading illness, so continue to practice good hand washing and for pet’s sake, avoid sneezing or coughing in their adorable little faces.