Zoonoses Associated with Exotic Pets


Zoonoses are diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans, and some estimate that 75% of emerging human infectious diseases are zoonotic. Many of these zoonoses come from non-domestic animals. This live, interactive webinar presented by Dr. Marcy Souza will provide an overview of more common zoonoses associated with non-domestic or exotic pets, including but not limited to, salmonellosis, influenza, chlamydiosis, monkeypox, rabies, Mycobacterium sp., and various parasitic diseases. Recent outbreaks of zoonoses in exotic pets and people will be highlighted. We will also discuss the potential role of non-domestic species in the emergence and/or transmission of novel pathogens in the future.


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  • What is a zoonosis?
    • Estimates regarding the impact of zoonoses on human populations
  • What species are we talking about today?
    • Birds: Psittaciformes, Passeriformes, Columbiformes, Galliformes
    • Mammals: rodents, rabbits, ferrets, hedgehogs
    • Reptiles: chelonians, snakes, lizards
  • Major zoonoses of concern: species, signs in animals (if any), symptoms in people, preventive measures, recent outbreaks
    • Rabies
    • Mycobacterium sp.
    • Parasitic diseases
      • Baylisascaris procyonis
      • Giardia sp.
      • Cryptosporidium sp.
  • Non-domestic species as drivers of disease emergence
  • General prevention strategies for unknown diseases


About the presenter

Dr. Marcy J. Souza is a Professor of Veterinary Public Health and Wildlife Medicine at the University of Tennessee (UT) College of Veterinary Medicine. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University (2004) and a Master of Public Health at UT (2008). Marcy is a Diplomate of both the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners and the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine… [MORE]


Webinar recording



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Expert Q+A

Although Dr. Souza answered most questions during the live event, the remaining questions were answered by email and are posted below:



This two-part question originally asked about Heartguard or Simperica use in raccoons, and then followed up with the following:

Do you give it monthly? I do treat raccoons and currently have only treated active infections, but haven’t seen a prevention protocol… I am specifically asking if anyone has any data if the canine pre-formulated heartworm or dewormer preventions are safe and effective and have they been used (off label) for raccoons 

If trying to deworm a captive raccoon, I would recommend either pyrantel or fenbendadzole.  You likely will need to repeat this in 2-3 doses similar to deworming dogs.  But, once clear of infection, monthly or regular deworming isn’t needed unless the animal keeps gets re-infected from a contaminated environment. I would recommend performing fecal exams prior to blanket de-worming.  I am unaware of any trials in raccoons examining the referenced canine drugs.


Another attendee wrote in response to the Rx discussion:

We have historically given IVM monthly in zoos for possible shedding.

…I would not recommend treating monthly with dewormer as it can certainly lead to resistance (unless you have cause).  Performing fecal exams to determine what parasites are present and also to determine burden is important to decide whether treatment is appropriate.  Zoo Knoxville does monthly fecal exams but doesn’t necessarily deworm unless warranted.   



So H1N1 was considered highly pathogenic wasn’t it? So, was it named H1 for a special reason?

This flu virus was not an avian flu, it came out of swine.  For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/cdcresponse.htm.



The following question was briefly discussed during the live event:  Here we have a huge problem with invasive psittacine birds…but a lot of people adopt them to be their pets. In the case of a wild psittacine adopted to be a pet, what tests do you think are most important to prevent transmission of zoonotic disease?

When additional information was requested, the veterinarian wrote:

I was asking especially for Myiopsitta monachus (Monk parakeet) and other Psittacidae

I would recommend initial bloodwork just to get a “normal” for that bird and then also test for psittacosis.

For additional information visit the Compendium of Measures to Control Chlamydia psittaci Infection Among Humans.



You mentioned rabies in all mammals. Other than ferrets, dogs, and cats, what else would you vaccinate?

Initial reply by editor:  I will still forward this question to Dr. Souza but I can tell you in a zoo setting, that most nondomestic canids and felids are vaccinated against rabies. Also, as Dr. Souza mentioned with the tamandua, animals that are kept in outreach situations or children’s zoos are often routinely vaccinated against rabies, particularly if the facility is in an area where rabies virus is endemic. Bears are often vaccinated in endemic areas.

I agree that any mammal that comes into contact with people, especially outreach animals should be vaccinated.  And opossums are lower risk but I would still vaccinate.  While the vaccine is used off label, it adds a layer of protection. 


Do we have to really worry too much about rabies in ferrets? I handle ferrets a lot at work! 

As long as they are exclusively inside probably not. And if vaccinated, even less.


I am a wildlife rehabber and I primarily deal with opossums. On occasion I will have one that remains as an education animal. Would you advise rabies vaccination for those that are kept and may come in contact with humans? 

Animals that are kept in outreach situations are often routinely vaccinated against rabies virus, particularly if the facility is in an area where rabies virus is endemic. Opossums are lower risk but I would still vaccinate. While the vaccine is being used off-label, it adds a layer of protection.

Additional information can be found in the brief LafeberVet’s article  Zoonotic concern:  Rabies in Terrestrial Small Mammals.



If someone gets salmonellosis from their pet reptile, what is the recommended way to handle the animal? Will they continue shedding and risk re-exposing the owner (and will owner get symptoms again)?

We assume all reptiles carry Salmonella and treatment of healthy animals with antibiotics is not recommended as it is unlikely to clear the infection and may lead to antibiotic resistance.  Reinfection certainly could occur but hopefully anyone that was infected once would take precautions to reduce or eliminate repeat exposure.  Also, reptiles are not the best choice of pets if children or immunocompromised people are in the household.   

Additional information can be found in the brief LafeberVet’s article  Zoonotic concern:  Salmonellosis in Reptiles.


I would like to ask, if you really see many infections with Salmonella caused by pet animals. My impression is, that most human cases are caused from foodborne salmonella that replicated in some kinds of food like cream, salad and so on after contamination from meat and eggs and lack of sufficient cooling. Did you see “direct” infections from animals?

You are correct – most Salmonella infections are related to consuming contaminated food with a much smaller number coming from direct animal exposure.  No, I am not seeing these cases because the people would go to their health care provider and not me.  And often, GI disease as a single case doesn’t get investigated so we aren’t sure if some might be animal related but either don’t go to their physician or isn’t severe enough to even perform diagnostics.  Many people with salmonellosis resolve without even visiting their healthcare provider so unless there is an outbreak that can be tied to a common source, the actual source is often unknown.



I don’t want to be ‘out of line’ but the numbers of confirmed sick humans from animals/pets is very low… How can it be considered significant?  …I meant all diseases, from Chlamydia to Salmonella, to COVID, etc.

Editor’s reply:  While it is true that the incidence of zoonotic disease can be low, much of the resultant illness and death is preventable. As veterinarians, we want to arm ourselves, our staff, and our clients with the information needed to prevent these diseases whenever possible.


RACE approval

This program is approved for 1 hour of continuing education by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards Registry of Approved Continuing Education for veterinarians and veterinary technicians.

To cite this page:

Souza MJ. Zoonoses associated with exotic pets. LafeberVet web site. December 10, 2021. Available at  https://lafeber.com/vet/zoonoses-associated-with-exotic-pets/