I am troubled and afraid of pets because of hygiene reasons but almost everyone is telling me I should not consider hygiene as a reason to avoid them and be appalled.

I am a person that loves hygiene. I dislike and avoid physical contact with humans when dirty and/or sweaty.

How clean are pets by human hygiene and human medicine standards? Can a human not allergic to them get moderately sick because of contact with their dirt, mud or anything else they bring in?

I have had my fair share of health burdens.

I am a cancer patient (Pilomyxoid Astrocytoma in the Pons of the Brainstem, I have right eye extremely blurry vision after scaring of a corneal ulcer due to sterile, exposure,friction ceratitis(corneopathy) because my right lacrimal gland does not produce tears. Right sided absolute cofosis. And paresis or paralysis of several nerves. My left side vision and hearing are not that much affected. I have complex partial epilepsy due to cancer.

My Question is:

How clean are pets by human hygiene standards?

  • 9
    Per your comment below about your aunt: I think you are absolutely a hypochondriac, but let me ask you this. It sounds to me like owning a pet would be basically psychological torture for you. Why would you want to do that to yourself? Are you asking because you need to convince someone else? Sep 15 '19 at 1:07
  • 2
    Considering your circumstances, I'm sorry, but I wouldn't risk it. The risk to non-compromised people is non-zero, the risk to you would be a multiple of that. Ask a medial expert what the risk would be to you specifically or don't risk it at all. You've got enough on your mind already.
    – Mast
    Sep 15 '19 at 10:28
  • 6
    Pets can't take care of themselves. Some can, for a while, but eventually it's up to you again. What happens when you're out of commission for a week? Now you have two problems. What if they get ill at an inconvenient time? Considering in other comments you state you're grossed out by many things and don't even like pets, don't torture yourself by getting one anyway. It's not worth it. They aren't for everyone and that's ok. What's not ok is people getting pets knowing they can't take care of them properly.
    – Mast
    Sep 15 '19 at 10:39
  • 1
    @Mast I am 22 still studying and because of my cancer I live with my parents. My younger sister(13) really wants a dog and my mother agrees. My father has the some issues as I do but he has no problem promising her a dog. So I am afraid he might get her one because his promises are just too frequent. As opposed to my mother who doubts he will keep his word, but she tells me if she wasn't that busy and my sister did most of the grooming a dog needs she would get my sister a dog. I am in no position to leave the house or fight with my family. Sep 15 '19 at 10:46
  • 1
    Dogs poop, don't wipe, then sit on your couch. Cats poop, walk in it, then walk on your kitchen counter. I'd go with a pet rock. They are very hygienic.
    – Evorlor
    Sep 16 '19 at 0:02

As a cancer patient, your risk may be higher than another person's due to the possibility of being immunocompromised. I would consult with your doctor to get a better assessment as to the risk. Immunocompromised people can own pets safely, but they must take much more precaution, and therefore such a person might not consider pet ownership to be worth the trouble. For instance, such a person should wash their hands every time they handle the pet, and they should not be the person that cleans up the pet's waste.

In the more general case, there is some risk of cross species infection, but it's fairly low if you take normal levels of precaution as you mentioned: washing hands, especially after handling waste, vaccinations, and so forth. The biggest risk is in handling their waste, which can spread various parasites and bacteria.

I would not recommend pet ownership to someone who is very squicked by uncleanliness as the reality is that pets are messy. You'll very likely touch them without noticing they just licked themselves, they'll sneak up in the kitchen counter with their dirty feet and rears, they'll drool, they'll vomit and have accidents, maybe in the worst places. These types of things will definitely happen if you adopt a pet. So even if it is true that you can live a healthy life with pets if you take the proper precautions, it is perfectly fine to make the judgement that a pet just doesn't fit into your clean lifestyle.

  • Fortunately I am not immunocompromised at least I did never take any drugs to suppress my immune system and it never was an issue to test just how well my immune system works. Besides my cancer related problems(of which symptoms only started at the age of 11-12) I only got sick once every 2-3 years. Maybe because of my apparent "iron" health I suffered so much(the diagnosis came at 16 years of age while my aunt is a neurologist and often called me an hypochondriac). Temozolomide was fortunately not administered. But my question was how clean. There is some risk but it's fairly low. How low? 1% Sep 14 '19 at 15:49
  • 2
    I don't know of such a statistic, and to be honest, I'm not sure it's actually possible to calculate such a statistic. But it's definitely not zero, anyways.
    – Kai
    Sep 14 '19 at 16:23
  • We can use aproximation. Do you subjectively as Kai(the physical entity, the homo sapiens behind the internet persona) think the risk is less than 3%? How much do you subjectively think it is? Sep 14 '19 at 16:36
  • 3
    You're exhibiting phobic behaviour, and perhaps it's a response to your cancer diagnosis. I would suggest getting medical treatment. Sep 15 '19 at 1:13
  • 3
    @GeorgeNtoulos this site is for fact-based/objective answer, so soliciting personal opinion is out-of-the-scope of this site because it tends to be misleading.
    – Andrew T.
    Sep 15 '19 at 7:15

Can(I just need a moderate possibility of 3% or so, so as to brand them dirty) a human not allergic to them get moderately sick because of contact with their dirt, mud, dust, hair, saliva, tears, sweat, bacteria, archaea, microzoa, parasites, fungi, feces, urine , sebum, mucus?

Yes. According to this article "approximately 4 million pet-derived infections occur annually in the United States". The quoted study was from 1987, when the total population of the US was about 242 million people, about 50% of which are pet owners. So around 3% of the per owners in the US contracted diseases from their pets, according to the quoted study. Or the other way round: The average pet owner gets sick from their pets 2-3 times in their life.**

But, the linked article also explicitly says that "most pet-associated infections are preventable with simple measures" like washing your hands. So, given your behavior, your personal risk is going to be significantly lower than that. There's no way to give you an exact number, but if you look at the diseases and infection vectors in the linked article, most simply won't apply to you.

** actually, that's a bit simplified, because the pet owner isn't always the person who gets sick.

  • Nor were there about 242 million pet owners in 1987, or the study absolutely accurate(there must have been the case for underreporting, underdiagnosing, underdiscovering doctors do not diagnose an infection unless one complains you do not get preventively and continuously and exhaustively examined for any studied infection, under... and over... whatever), when you flip a fair coin 3 times and get thrice heads do you think it changes the probability? That's called a gamblers fallacy. Low Occurence and Realization does not mean Low risk. Sep 15 '19 at 11:45
  • The optimum approximation would be to meticulously count-measure absolutely every instance of pet-related deseases and divide by the number of times a human came into contact with a pet. We could adjust for the severity of the sickness and the time lenght of contact. Sep 15 '19 at 11:48
  • 1
    @GeorgeNtoulos: You seem to assume that the makers of the 1987 study didn't know anything about statistics, and that their method is basically flawed. What basis do you have for that? Have you read the study?
    – Niki
    Sep 15 '19 at 17:08
  • I am certainly not assuming they do not know anything about statistics. I am questioning the fact that the people considered are 242 million(when in fact some of them did not come into contact with pets) and that the pet owner not always being the person who gets sick somehow diminishes the percentage. Of course pet owners should be more at risk of pet derived infections since they come more often into contact with their pets than the general population and the people not owning a pet be even less at risk than the general population(the general population includes both as such is an average). Sep 15 '19 at 17:43
  • 1
    @GeorgeNtoulos: The 242 million is what I get when I enter "population US 1987" in google. According to the linked article, "more than 50% of households own at least one pet". So roughly 121 million people can be considered pet owners. 4 Million of 121 million is about 3%.
    – Niki
    Sep 16 '19 at 5:20

At risk of making a fool of myself...

Directly answering the question, pets are dirty. I'm avoiding specifics, you'll find reasons in the other answers.

That being said:

I myself have had extreme "contamination" OCD. You presented a fear of contamination and a focus on hygiene that falls far, far outside the realm of reasonable; I may be wrong, but I'd argue that you have a bad case of OCD.

No, pets aren't clean, but that isn't a bad thing, definitely not something that anyone should care about. It's easy for someone with OCD to pass it off as "loving hygiene", when it's instead a painful fear of dirt; And it's easy to justify their fear by calling it a quirk or arguing that it's healthier, but it's more than a quirk and certainly isn't healthy. And the worst of it is that OCD can grow, going from manageable to crippling.

So I ask that you go for an OCD evaluation, as soon as possible.

I want to be clear that OCD is never the sufferer's fault, but it isn't something that should be accepted by the sufferer either.

Edit: Also, from personal experience that may apply to you, I'd suggest you completely avoid learning about the topics that disturb you, unless it's for therapy; Knowledge can be very harmful if it expands an obsession.

  • 1
    I agree with you, that OP should search (maybe actual have) help to handle the strong wish of absolute clean surroundings. But maybe you could extend the part of your answer, which answers the question of OP. Answers with no real addition (to answer the OPs question) in general are not well accepted on stackexchange Sep 16 '19 at 9:23

Short answer:
By most human standards, most pets are "clean", but that depends on their life circumstances. Humans can be infected with bacteria and parasites, but that depends on the hygiene and immune system of the human. In general, the risk of becoming ill or sick due to a pet (in Western society) is very low, unless you grossly disregard hygiene and ingest fecal matters.

Long answer:

Pets are never free of bacteria, but neither are humans. We have beneficial bacteria living on and protecting our skin. No matter how much you brush your teeth, you'll never be able to remove every last bacterium from your mouth. Without bacteria in your gut you'd get seriously ill. The same applies to pets.

Of course gut bacteria from feces and urine make you ill. There's no big difference between human or pet feces in that regard. But just because pets cannot wipe their butt clean doesn't mean they're full of fecal bacteria. Evolution found a rather clean solution for this problem: the hair surrounding the anus of almost all mammals deflects the feces and lets them drop off cleanly. If the animal doesn't have diarrhea, you won't find any caked fecal matter on their behind. Of course the dog could come into contact with feces of other dogs or cats, depending on their lifestyle.

Pets don't bathe like humans and they don't use shower gel, so their fur accumulates some amount of sebum. Some of that is licked off again by the pet during their natural grooming behavior. Pets produce sebum at a very slow rate, so a dog that wasn't bathed for 6 months might have accumulated an amount of sebum compared to a human who washed their hair 2 days ago. This depends on the individual and their living circumstances, though. Dogs living outside all the time produce more sebum to protect against rain. Dogs living in a warm and dry home produce almost no sebum at all. I'm not aware of any health risk associated with a dog's sebum.

In addition to that, pets accumulate some dust and dirt in their fur. As long as their fur isn't caked with mud, most people still consider this "clean" and don't feel the need to wash their hands every time after petting their pet because this dirt is no different from the dust and dirt in their every-day environment. Humans who are not severely immuno-deficient, weak or already ill do not get ill from contact with pet hair and the general dust and dirt of a pet. On the contrary, contact with this every-day dirt keeps the immune system in working order (prevents allergies) and can even train the immune system to recognize pathogens in small traces before they have a chance to infect you.

The saliva of dogs is often considered "clean" because it has antibacterial properties, but it is not free of bacteria. The immune system of humans usually copes very well with the bacteria that live in/on pets. One notable exception is if the dog or cat can go outside and come in contact with trash or rodents. Only people with a weak immune system should not let a pet lick their face. Pets should not lick any wounds or rashes on a human skin. Have a look at a related question: Is it safe to let a pet lick your face?

The most common parasites of cats and dogs are either skin parasites like ticks or fleas and gut worms. Most skin parasites can infest humans as well, but ticks don't move from one host to another and several kinds of fleas are specialized in only cats or only dogs and don't infest humans. It's also rather easy to tell if a dog is infested with fleas or not and the chances of a dog being infested is rather low.

Some gut worms can also infest humans, but to do so you must come into contact with the eggs contained in fecal matter and ingest those. Cases of contamination are rare, but above zero.

As far as I'm aware of, there's no health risk involved in touching a pet's tears or mucus or other bodily fluids.

If they are so clean, then why are pets banned from most restaurants?
There are 3 main reasons why any kind of animal is banned from kitchens and most restaurants don't like pets in their facilities:

  • Other guests might be allergic to the fur.
  • Pets might misbehave and annoy other guests.
  • A restaurant has to prepare food that's safe for any person, even ill ones and those with severe immune deficiencies. Any food scandal might be the death of a restaurant. To eliminate even the slightest risk to any customer, pets are banned from the kitchen.


If a pet lives with a family and is cared for, there's no reason at all for you to be afraid of catching an illness. Even if someone prepares food after touching a pet, the food is usually still safe. The only big exception is contact to fecal matter.

  • Frequently the arithmetic mean is above the median and the mode. Regardless let me correct myself. Are most people that come into contact with pets risk free? You do not brush your teeth to remove bacteria you brush your teeth to remove leftover food and maybe food stains. I am not interested in what people consider as clean because everyone has a different definition. The subjectivity I am interested in is the Risk of moderate illness-sickness when coming into contact with pets( the cutoff value is 3%). Sep 16 '19 at 13:21
  • I marked the health-relevant information for each topic in italics. There is no risk of becomming even slightly ill or sick unless you are severely immune defficient, let a pet lick a wound or ingest fecal matter (by lack of hygiene).
    – Elmy
    Sep 16 '19 at 13:25
  • I do not think diseases are restricted to infections. But proably the risk for infections are greater that the risk of traumatic injury, etc. You cannot stop pets from getting into your bed, your sofa, the counter, etc. Each organism evolved to cope with its own infections. Dogs' buttocks are not necessarily clean because they do not get sick. Caked in fecal matter is quitte disturbing I do not think even pet lovers would be ok with it. Unless they are absolutely sterile you can ingest fecal matter because they do not bathe every day. Sep 16 '19 at 13:36

I try to answer based on dogs, and in general, not considering possible extra hygiene needs caused by your health situation:

Surprise, surprise, dogs don't "take baths", but it is up to the owners to "help them! [Yes, esp. cats take care of themselves to some extent, though]. "Common sense" works here. I love my dogs "too much", and try to take care of their hygiene, but, while I know many people do, I have never, will never, and do not recommend anyone to: 1. Kiss their pets 2. Eat / prepare food by bare hands after touching the pets, without washing ones hands first

My experience from many vets, who supposedly know better, suggest that I may be exaggerating, though. When getting vaccinations for my dogs, I have seen vets, after having touched the animal, grabbing the "cap" of an injection needle, then putting the cap [with the needle inside it] into his mouth to later allow him to conveniently pull out the needle from the cap using one hand, while holding the animal with the other one.

p.s. If I understood your 1st sentence correctly, someone may be pressuring you to interact with [his/her?] pets. If, so, this is obviously inconsiderate behavior, and I feel bad if you have been exposed to such!

  • The problem is not simply pressuring me to interact with their pets. I am having a meal in their house and they do not wash their hands and my disgust is apparent in my face. I do not like pets near me. I simply cannot stop myself from showing my aversion with face expressions and body language. I lean the other way. I even leave the room. I avoid contact with the people so as to avoid their pets. Dog owners do bathe the cynic/canine friends. I do not know any veterinarian who proclaims DAILY(absolutely each and every day) baths are safe for PETS. Sep 14 '19 at 15:18
  • Human hygiene does not stop by taking a single bath each day. We brush our teeth, floss, wipe our buttocks(at least with toilet paper), we use clothes to absorb sweat and dirt, we do not have nearly as much clingy hair. Sep 14 '19 at 15:19
  • But the question was How not If. Depending on ones' standards everything is clean. Sep 14 '19 at 15:25
  • 4
    If they aren't washing their hands before preparing or serving food, then that's poor food safety, and you have every right to object whether or not they have pets. However, if your find yourself avoiding people because they own pets, and you are squicked even being in the same room for fear they are being unclean, that honestly sounds like a compulsion that is negatively impacting your interpersonal relationships, and maybe you should consider trying to address it somehow.
    – Kai
    Sep 14 '19 at 16:21

If you had a choice between a cat and a dog, go for the dog as cats that are allowed to roam outside pick up toxoplasmosis which can infect human brains. And the condition is untreatable in that the paraside can not be eliminated from the human brain. See toxoplasmosis and schizophrenia.

Dogs are man's best friend since we co-evolved with them. Having some germs around is healthy as it challenges our immune systems. An unchallenged immune system leads to immune dysfunction though probably not cancer.

And to forestall any issues make sure the dog is taught bite inhibition, and gets seen by the vet regularly.

  • 4
    Toxoplasmosis isn't actually harmful to most people. The exceptions are pregnant women and immunocompromised people. I'm not sure how treatable toxoplasmosis is of you fit into one of those groups, but there are drugs that are prescribed for it.
    – Kai
    Sep 14 '19 at 22:57
  • 2
    +1 for "Having some germs around is healthy as it challenges our immune systems." As much as we humans like things to be clean, research shows it leads to all sorts of things, including (potentially) the massive increase in allergies nowadays. Sep 14 '19 at 23:25
  • @Kai there is a lot of data to link toxoplasmosis infection with brain disorders such as schizophrenia. Furthermore, rodents infected with toxo also show odd behaviours suggesting control by the parasite. They become attracted to cat urine and are less afraid of cats. The cat then eats the toxo infected rodent to continue the infection cycle. medicalnewstoday.com/articles/253802.php Sep 15 '19 at 1:10
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    @Graham Chiu. The OP's question is not about difference in hygiene between cats and dogs. If it were, your arguments are only a few. Just as many at least can be found on internet that lead to the conclusion that cats are cleaner than dogs. Let's not get into that discussion here. Let's focus on the difference in hygiene between humans and animals in general.
    – Draakhond
    Sep 15 '19 at 10:08
  • @Draakhond the OP has a medical condition, a cleanliness condition. Now if you focus on risks to health, then dogs are clearly safer because you're not going to catch a brain destroying organism from dogs in a modern society. Now, sure fish are probably safer unless you get mycobactera marinum from them, or psitticosis from parrots and the list goes on. Sep 15 '19 at 11:05

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