Living with an infected domestic pet

Living with an infected domestic pet can be worrying, but if you follow basic precautions there should be no risk. Where young children or pregnant mothers are involved greater precautions need to be taken, and we advise that pregnant mothers are totally isolated from contact with infected animals or their environment. Young children need supervision to ensure they don’t transfer the bacteria to their mouths, but are at no greater risk of being infected than an adult doing the same thing.

The risk from your pet is simply that you can pick up bacteria they shed in their urine (and blood), causing you to become infected as well. The strains that commonly infect domestic pets and livestock can all cause illness in humans, but as we explain in the topics list below, the bacteria are not airborne so simply sharing a house with the animal is perfectly safe. You need to ensure that their urine and blood does not enter your own body, via cuts on your skin or your mouth – so you should wear gloves when cleaning up any spills and not allow the animal to lick your face.

As the animal’s urine will be infectious, you may need to isolate it from other animals – dogs for example can infect other dogs and livestock by urine-marking their areas in wet weather, when the urine doesn’t dry out as quickly. Infected dogs should not be taken onto commercial livestock farms or lodged in kennels.

Bedding will be prefectly safe provided it is dry, and surfaces contaminated with urine can easily be disinfected if they don’t naturally dry out – such as furniture cushions – using any standard household disinfectant or soap solution. Items that cannot be properly washed due to their size should be completely dried and kept dry (ideally in a warm place) for 24 hours to kill any bacteria and remove any moisture from inside. While we do not consider it a significant risk, infected pets should not be allowed to share beds with their owners, in case nocturnal urination transfers onto their owner while they are sleeping.

When your pet is treated with antibiotics, the illness can often be managed but the bacteria will still appear in the pet’s urine, often for several months after they have recovered. We advise precautions to be maintained for six months after the treatment has finished.

Pets that surivive an infection will have some immunity, but they are far from being totally protected – immunity is specific to the serogroup(s) that caused the illness and there are many others in the enviroment that can still cause a second infection. Immunity also tends to last only a year or two, and for domestic dogs there is a real benefit in using vaccination.