Zoonotic Diseases Within the Veterinary Field

The job of a veterinary medical professional or those in animal care can be extremely rewarding. Being able to help animals grow up to be healthy and happy while forming strong bonds with their family is a classic example. However, such a career is not without hazards. One of the most conspicuous risks to all animal care and veterinary medical professionals are zoonotic diseases. A zoonotic disease is an illness that can be transmitted from animals to humans, and sometimes vice versa. While some of these illnesses may result in mild symptoms others can lead to death. These diseases can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, protozoa, or fungi such as:

  • Rabies virus
  • Leptospirosis bacteria
  • Brucellosis bacteria
  • Intestinal parasites such as Roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides), Hookworm (Ancylostoma duodenale) or Whipworm (Trichuris trichiura)
  • The protozoa causing Giardia or Toxoplasmosis
  • The fungus Ringworm
  • Pasteurella multocida bacteria

Here is what Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), recommend to prevent zoonotic disease infection.

How Are Zoonotic Diseases Transmitted?

OSHA advises that the best method to identify and rank safeguards to protect workers from hazards, like zoonotic diseases, is a hierarchy of controls. The most effective step within those controls is elimination or physically removing the hazard. In order to eliminate zoonotic diseases, we must first understand how they are transmitted. 

The most common route for such diseases to spread is through direct contact with an infected animal, such as through bites, scratches, or contact with bodily fluids like blood, saliva, urine, or feces. Indirect contact occurs when surfaces, such as countertops, soil, grass, or similar environments become contaminated with pathogens from animal secretions then we connect with those surfaces. Consumption of contaminated food or water, such as undercooked meat, unpasteurized dairy products, or fruits and vegetables contaminated with feces are known as foodborne transmission. OSHA’s standard 1910.1030(d)(2)(ix) prohibits the consumption of food and drink in areas in which work involving exposure or potential exposure to blood or other potentially infectious material takes place, or where the potential for contamination of work surfaces exists. And lastly, inhaling infectious particles, spores, or droplets from infected animals, particularly in cases of respiratory infections, are another common form of transmission.

How Do I Protect Myself Against Exposure?

While still important, PPE, or personal protective equipment, should be considered the last line of defense against workplace hazards. PPE acts as a barrier between humans and the threat of zoonotic diseases. PPE is particularly vital when collecting blood, urine, feces, or other tissue samples from any animal patient. While PPE is crucial for infection control, it is important to note that its effectiveness depends on proper use, including correct selection, fitting, donning, doffing, and disposal. Additionally, PPE should be used in conjunction with other preventive measures, such as hand hygiene, environmental cleaning, and education, to maximize its effectiveness in reducing the transmission of zoonotic diseases. 

The most commonly used forms of PPE within a veterinary setting to prevent zoonotic transmission are: 

  • Exam gloves
  • Disposable gowns
  • Face shields
  • Eye protection such as goggles or glasses
  • Shoe covers

It is vital to carefully and appropriately remove or doff PPE after potentially coming into contact with a zoonotic disease. If performed incorrectly, there is a risk of contamination as well as transmission to others. Be sure to keep an eye out for an additional article by Certified Safety Training breaking down each step of how to effectively doff used PPE.

What Does Environmental Infection Control Look Like?

Controlling environmental infections within a veterinary hospital is crucial for maintaining the health and safety of both animal patients and veterinary staff. Creating, implementing, and training new hires on cleaning and disinfecting protocols will reduce zoonotic disease exposure risks greatly. Some key steps that should be included in such protocols are:

  • Routinely clean and disinfect all areas of the hospital, including examination rooms, kennels, surgical suites, and common areas
  • Use veterinary-approved disinfectants effective against a broad spectrum of pathogens, and ensure thorough cleaning of surfaces, equipment and floors
  • Establish and maintain protocols for isolating animals with suspected or confirmed zoonotic diseases to prevent the spread of pathogens to other patients and staff
  • Limit the personnel that will interact with these animals to also lessen exposure
  • Practice good hand hygiene with regular hand washing of soap and water and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers
  • Follow strict protocols for the cleaning, sterilization and maintenance of veterinary equipment after each use to prevent cross-contamination between patients and exposure to staff
  • Select disinfectants based on their characteristics, pathogens of concern, compatibility with materials, level of risk, and whether they are safe to use around animals

Zoonotic diseases represent a significant and growing challenge to not only the veterinary industry, but global public health, driven by factors such as travel and increased human-animal interactions. By utilizing knowledge of disease transmission, implementing proper elimination techniques, using PPE appropriately, and being aware of environmental contamination, you can effectively combat zoonotic diseases in your hospital. Through these concerted efforts, we can protect the health of both veterinary professionals and the broader community, ensuring a safer and healthier future for all. 

For more information on veterinary medical safety training courses, how to align with OSHA and AAHA requirements, or maximizing your training management, please reach out to Certified Safety Training at support@certifiedsafetytraining.org or (609) 375-8462.


Fairfax, Richard E. “Requirements for Covered Beverages at Nurses’ Stations.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, 17 May 2006, www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/2006-05-17-1. 

“Keep It Clean - Infection Control and Biosecurity in Veterinary Medicine by the Numbers.” Virox Booklet 24, Virox Animal Health, www.aaha.org/wp-content/uploads/globalassets/05-pet-health-resources/virox_booklet24.pdf. Accessed 14 June 2024. 

JAVMA. “Compendium of Veterinary Standard Precautions for Zoonotic Disease Prevention in Veterinary Personnel.” Veterinary Standard Precautions, National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, 1 Dec. 2015, www.nasphv.org/Documents/VeterinaryStandardPrecautions.pdf.