Photo/IllutrationA Ragamuffin cat, left, and a Scottish Fold cat (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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Surely, it doesn't need to be said, but don't kiss your pet dog or cat on the mouth. It could make you sick, even kill you.

That advice from veterinarians and other experts also extends to sharing a bed with your pets. They point out that dogs and cats are often infected with bacteria and viruses.

Such pathogens can occasionally prove deadly if transmitted to humans.

“No matter how carefully you wash your pets, there are still germs in their saliva, sometimes with traces of excrement,” said veterinarian Yasutomo Arashima.

The warning follows the death in May 2016 of a woman in her 60s who lived in Fukuoka Prefecture. The cause of death was traced to Corynebacterium ulcerans, which she apparently contracted from a cat.

It was the first recorded instance in Japan.

The health issue is timely, given that pet ownership is increasing and the likelihood of more interaction between owners and animals, experts say.

According to the health ministry, the woman experienced breathing difficulties and died three days later. Corynebacterium ulcerans was detected in her blood and body tissue.

The woman cared for three strays, which is apparently how she became infected. Corynebacterium ulcerans was detected in one of the felines, suggesting the initial point of contact.

The pathogen is typically transmitted to humans when an animal sneezes. A sore throat, cough or other cold-like symptoms can result, and on occasion, breathing difficulties or worse.

According to the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, 25 individuals were confirmed to have been infected with the bacteria by last November. The first instance of infection was reported in Japan in 2001.

Most of the cases are believed to be associated with infection from cats and dogs.

“People need to be careful when trying to touch cats and dogs that are sneezing or have a runny nose,” said a health ministry official. “In such cases, the animals should be taken to veterinary hospitals as soon as possible.”


Various infectious diseases can be transmitted to humans from animals, and they are generally called zoonoses.

In summer 2016, a woman in her 50s in western Japan died with a raging fever after being bitten by a stray cat infected with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS).

The cat had apparently become infected from a hard tick bite.

Although it was a rare case, many other viruses and pathogens can be transmitted from mutts and felines.

Cases of owners infected with zoonoses

after pathogens were transmitted from pets that sneezed or were kissed on the mouth, as well as instances where people were bitten or scratched, are drawing attention as pet ownership in Japan increases.

Some pet owners think nothing of kissing their animals or sharing their bed with them, too.

“People and their pets have become closer with each other, raising the risk of infection,” said Arashima, who is an assistant professor of laboratory medicine at Nihon University’s School of Medicine.

One of the most common zoonoses is pasteurellosis. Nearly all cats and 70 percent of dogs have the Pasteurella bacterium in their mouths.

Infection with the pathogen will cause swelling and aching, as well as coughing, fever and other cold-like symptoms. In more serious cases, patients can develop meningitis and sepsis, occasionally resulting in death.

Elderly people and those with diabetes are more prone to serious complications of pasteurellosis, and the number of such patients is increasing.

Arashima surveyed hospitals across Japan and found that while there were only 35 patients in 1987, the figure had risen to 700 by 2011.


Zoonoses can be treated with antimicrobial drugs.

While the pathogens do not affect the health of dogs and cats, humans who are infected only develop conditions similar to that of a cold, making it difficult for doctors to diagnose an infection.

As a result, treatment is often not provided until much later.

The number of zoonoses patients is probably much higher, if those who did not seek treatment are included.

Arashima urges pet owners to keep in mind when they interact with their pets that almost all of the animals carry pathogens.

He recommends not kissing an animal on the mouth or providing food mouth to mouth. The same goes for sleeping with your pets: Don't do it.

Arashima also recommends regular trimming of pets' nails and quick disposal of animals’ feces and urine, after which owners should thoroughly wash their hands.