Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

50+: Live Better, Longer

Font Size

Diseases From Animals: A Primer

A is for animals, Z is for zoonoses.
WebMD Feature

They come from giant Gambian rats and fuzzy bunnies. They come from puppies and pythons. Whether the animal is friend or food or foe, it can carry dangerous diseases.

There are at least 39 important diseases people catch directly from animals. There are at least 48 important diseases people get from the bite of bugs that bit an infected animal. And there are at least 42 important diseases that people get by ingesting or handling food or water contaminated with animal feces.

Recommended Related to Healthy Seniors

Getting Help from Other Caregivers

"Help" Is Not a Four-Letter Word It's been stated before, but it bears repeating: Consider hiring a geriatric caseworker who can help you determine what kind of regular professional help you can use in caring for your senior. Supportive care options include facilities and programs to which your loved one will go, such as senior centers and adult day care programs, and services that will come to him or her, such as meal delivery, reassurance visits, and home care. Services are provided professionally...

Read the Getting Help from Other Caregivers article > >

Some are as old as memory: rabies, bubonic plague, food poisoning. Others have only recently emerged: monkeypox, West Nile encephalitis, Legionnaires' disease. And some, such as highly lethal bird flu, we fear even though they haven't -- yet -- spread in humans.

People have lived with animals for eons. There's a reason for that. They don't just make us feel better. They actually contribute to our health. People who keep pets tend to have lower cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. They tend to get more exercise and to feel less lonely.

On the other hand, pets and other animals can get sick. And some of these illnesses can be quite dangerous. This article offers an overview of these diseases -- and how to avoid them.

Why Animal-Borne Diseases Matter

Diseases passed to humans from animals are called zoonoses. What makes one of these diseases important? Two things, says zoonosis expert Lawrence T. Glickman, VMD, DrPH, professor of veterinary epidemiology and environmental health at Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, West Lafayette, Ind.

"If you ask Americans in general what is the most important zoonosis, most would say rabies," Glickman tells WebMD. "It is something they fear, it is in the news. But in terms of risk, there are only zero to two human cases a year in the U.S. It's one of those zoonoses that are important because of their seriousness, but not their frequency: rabies, tularemia, plague, monkeypox, listeria, anthrax. These are diseases that are very serious if one gets them but which are relatively uncommon."

On the flip side, Glickman notes, are animal-borne diseases that are important because they are fairly common even if not often fatal. Cat-scratch fever, for example, infects as many as 20,000 Americans a year. And an estimated 4%-20% of U.S. kids get roundworm from dogs and cats.

"Even these diseases can be quite serious," Glickman says. Here's a roundup of a few important zoonoses:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Today on WebMD

Eating for a longer, healthier life.
woman biking
How to stay vital in your 50s and beyond.
womans finger tied with string
Learn how we remember, and why we forget.
man reviewing building plans
Do you know how to stay healthy as you age?
fast healthy snack ideas
how healthy is your mouth
dog on couch
doctor holding syringe
champagne toast
Two women wearing white leotards back to back
Man feeding woman
two senior women laughing