Recently, I wrote a post about the need for vets and physicians to communicate more, and about concerns that zoonotic diseases get missed because vets deal with animals and physicians deal with people, but few people pay attention to the interface between them. A reader (my father, actually) wrote this comment.

…is the opposite also true? If I take my sick cat to the local vet, will he advise me to see my physician if I begin to feel ill effects? Are vets trained to know that pets can transfer disease to their owners or in this an emerging part of vet. science?

It’s a good question and one that doesn’t have a straightforward answer. Vets certainly do get educated regarding zoonoses.  From what I understand from talking to colleagues in the human medical field, there is much more emphasis on zoonoses in the veterinary medical curriculum compared to the human medical curriculum. However, a lot of the focus is on foodborne and waterborne zoonoses, with much less information about companion animal (e.g. dog, cat, horse) zoonoses. Different vets have quite variable knowledge in this area, ranging from excellent to poor. It’s a huge field (I’m still learning more about it all the time), and vets and physicians alike have busy schedules and many other areas where they need to stay current as well, so it’s not unfathomable that zoonoses could get neglected.

So, to answer the question, if you take your sick cat to the vet, it’s unlikely he/she will initially ask about your health. However, if the vet suspects a zoonotic disease, hopefully he/she would tell you what it is and possibly what signs for which to watch out. Providing additional information would also be useful, which is why we’re developing the information sheets that are available on our Resources page). At that point, the vet would typically (and reasonably) leave it up to you to determine whether you should see your physician and what should happen from there. In the grand scheme of things, it would be very useful for vets and physicians to have some form of dialogue or at least an understanding of each other’s roles and a willingness to call each other when appropriate.

Both human and veterinary medicine have a long way to go to get to the "one medicine" concept that people like to talk about. I think we’re slowly moving in the right direction, but vets and physicians need to talk more to properly cover this important area of overlap between their professions.