In a country where two-thirds of households have pets, and nine out of 10 owners say their animals are regarded as family, it’s no surprise that pet owners want to comfort their four-legged loved ones in their final days.

However, kissing and nuzzling dying pets can be dangerous, according to a new study — all that close contact puts devoted animal owners at greater risk of contracting life-threatening illnesses like Pasteurella multocida infections.

In the latest issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, Dr. Joseph Myers discusses three cases of pet owners who contracted the deadly bacteria while providing palliative care for their dying cats and dogs.

P. multocida bacteria live in the mouths of 80 percent of cats and 60 percent of dogs and are a common cause of skin infections from animal bites and scratches. Still, only about 5 percent of dog bites and 30 percent of cat bites become infected, according to the University of California at Los Angeles. However, infections can also occur through normal interactions with animals, such as licking or kissing.

Typically, infants, the elderly and people with weak immune systems are most at risk from P. multocida, but the three cases Myers reported occurred in healthy women in their 50s and 60s. He says the women’s frequent close contact with their ailing animals likely increased their chances of infection.

How exactly were the women exposed? Myers reports that one woman shared a dropper of honey with her pooch, and the other two continuously held and kissed their cats during the felines’ final days of life.

All of the women reported fever, chills, sore throats and difficulty breathing, and in all three cases, the bacteria attacked the women’s respiratory tracts, targeting one woman’s lungs, another’s epiglottis and the other’s uvula.

If you exhibit any of these systems or suspect you might have contracted an infection from an animal, seek medical help immediately.

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Laura Moss writes about a variety of topics with a focus on animals, science, language and culture. But she mostly writes about cats.

Cuddling dying pets can give owners deadly infections
Close contact with animals puts devoted pet owners at greater risk of contracting life-threatening bacterial infections.