Heading Outdoors? Keep Your Distance From Animals to Avoid Disease

Wildlife can look cute and cuddly, but many animals carry disease. Some animals may also scratch or bite, which can lead to injury or infection. Whether you’re out camping at a state park, hiking through a national forest, or strolling through the park by your house, make sure you’re aware of the risks that animals carry.

Stay safe and keep your distance from animals when spending time outdoors. Talk to your doctor about any unusual symptoms or contact with wildlife. Click To Tweet

Which animals carry disease?

A disease that can spread between animals and humans is known as a zoonotic disease. Many different wild animals can cause disease, illness, or infection through scratches, bites, direct contact, or contact through urine and droppings. Rodents—such as mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels, prairie dogs, and groundhogs—raccoons, deer, armadillos, skunks, birds, wild predators and game are just a few of the animals that carry disease.

Parasites spread disease and infection, too. People don’t always think of fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes when they think of dangerous animals. However, vector-borne diseases result in more than 700,000 deaths each year globally.

It’s not just wildlife that cause illness; domestic animals and house pets such as dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, and amphibians can also spread infection.

What types of disease do animals spread?


Some armadillos are naturally infected with the bacteria that causes Hansen’s disease (leprosy).

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial disease spread by ticks. It is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S. Seek immediate medical treatment if you notice a “bull’s eye” rash from a tick bite.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is bacterial disease transmitted by ticks; it can be serious if not treated. RMSF is treated with antibiotics.


Plague is a rare bacterial disease that spreads by infected fleas typically found on rodents including squirrels and prairie dogs. U.S. Plague infection in the United States is mostly found in western states.

The CDC reports an average of seven human plague cases each year. People are typically infected through flea bites, but cats and dogs can become infected through eating an infected rodent.


Rabies virus affects the nervous system, it is fatal and can’t be treated one symptoms appear. The virus can infect most mammals, and most infections occur through bites. Vaccinate your dogs to protect them from rabies

Campylobacter infection

Dogs and cats can spread Campylobacter jejuni bacteria. A Campylobacter infection causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever.

Parrot fever

Bird owners can get a bacterial illness known as psittacosis, or parrot fever. This typically occurs through contact with infected bird feces or dirty birdcages.

Cat scratch disease

Cat scratch disease occurs when a person is bitten or scratched by a cat infected Bartonella henselae bacteria. While the bacteria causes symptoms, it rarely causes long-term complications.

West Nile virus

West Nile virus is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental U.S. The virus often results in fever and other symptoms, but may can be fatal.


Salmonella infection is usually caused by consuming contaminated food or water. Reptiles and amphibians carry Salmonella and can infect humans with the bacteria.

These are just a few of the illnesses that can be spread by animals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a list of most common diseases that wildlife can transmit to humans.

What can you do?

  • You don’t have to stay cooped up indoors. There are ways that you can enjoy wildlife without putting yourself at risk for illnesses.
  • Be respectful of wildlife and appreciate animals from a safe distance.
  • Wear insect repellent to keep ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes away.
  • Properly store food away from tents and sleeping areas when camping.
  • Wash your hands after spending time outdoors.
  • Do not handle wildlife of any kind.
  • Do not work or play in areas with animal droppings or urine.

Stay safe while spending time outdoors, and talk to your doctor if you are ever bitten or scratched by an animal.