Recommendations for preventing spread of zoonoses from nontraditional pets

With the growing popularity of nontraditional pets comes a heightened risk of human infection with zoonotic diseases.

The National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, examined the disease threats to pet owners and offered recommendations for prevention in an article published this June in the journal Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases.

Three major groups of animals have repeatedly been associated with local, regional, and national outbreaks of zoonotic diseases in people in the United States: rodents, backyard poultry, and reptiles, according to the article, titled “A Review of Zoonotic Disease Threats to Pet Owners: A Compendium of Measures to Prevent Zoonotic Diseases Associated with Non-Traditional Pets Such as Rodents and Other Small Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Backyard Poultry, and Other Selected Animals.”

Small turtle being held in a human hand

As recently as July 21, the CDC announced that small turtles had been linked to a wave of Salmonella infections across the United States. According to the report, at least 15 cases were reported across 11 states, and these cases could be traced to turtles from online stores with shells less than 4 inches long.

The compendium presents information on these and other nontraditional pet animal species associated with a high risk of zoonotic disease transmission in any setting, including nonrodent small mammals, amphibians, and other aquatic species that are less frequently linked to illness or outbreaks but nonetheless pose a risk of zoonotic disease transmission.

“This dedicated issue of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, published at a time of heightened public awareness of monkeypox, provides information on zoonotic pathogens associated with many species of non-traditional pets, and is a global resource for the pet industry, pet owners, veterinarians, physicians, researchers and many others,” said Stephen Higgs, PhD, editor-in-chief of Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases and director of the Biosecurity Research Institute at Kansas State University, in a press release.

The compendium lists common risk factors leading to illness that are associated with nontraditional pet animal species. It provides a summary of identified outbreaks, case reports, and types of pathogens in the U.S from 1996 through 2017. The compendium also offers a comprehensive review of zoonotic pathogens among nontraditional pets.

Recommendations and best practices were developed using a one-health approach, with the goal of preventing zoonotic disease transmission between nontraditional pet animal species and people and of reducing zoonotic disease risks in environments with animals and people.

A version of this article appears in the September 2022 print issue of JAVMA.