The Brontes and their pets in sickness and in Health,till death do us part

blade and poffy dress

A very short post on the health of the Brontes  and how this may have been affected by their pets . The following is a list of ailments  I have come across  which may account for some of  the family’s general aches and pains or mild ill health  mentioned in letters.Its just possible to explain even their behavour by looking at their pets.

It also raised the interesting though unlikely possibilty that TB wasnt contracted at Cowen Bridge,or from Branwell ,or in Haworth ,but  that a dog or a pet cat was the unwitting means of introducing  TB..Though rare to confirm , humans have contracted TB from pets and other animals directly( rather than via milk)

.A recent case where the direct path could be traced was that of a veterinary  nurse who had treated wild animals and a case where a girl caught it from her pet dog.


I also wondered if Emily might have picked up a infection that remained dormant from the dog bite

I have not had a chance to pursue the research  so its submitted in its draft form primarily for the attention of those better qualified than myself.

Emily had Erysipelas which Charlotte mentions  as reoccurring at least  once in sept 1833 ( p 27 Juliette Barker Brontes a life in letters)

DEF from

This is described as  an  acute, painful and potentially serious infection of the skin and subcutaneous tissues. The most common causative organisms are Streptococcus or Staphylococcus spp. More likely to occur in people who have a poor immune system – for example, if you take steroids or chemotherapy. But it also occurs from a number of other causes eg if the person has  had an insect bite. or has skin problems such as eczema. or can be contracted from birds such as chickens geese etc  and livestock such as pigs


You may feel unwell and have a fever. Indeed, the first symptom is often to feel feverish and shivery for up to 24 hours before any changes to the skin appear.

With erysipelas, the face or a leg are commonly affected. If erysipelas affects the face, infection has often travelled from the nasal (nose) passages from a recent infection of the nasal passages.

Treatment is by antibiotics,sometimes long term use is advised in cases where the complaint re occurs ,,a form of treatment unavailable in Emily’s day Anyone living prior to the advent  of antibiotics would see the disease progress and often settle in the joints where it would cause a great deal of pain.

Emily may possibly have  picked up the disease from the pet geese or the pet Canary or other birds handled either when preparing food or when nursing birds found on the moor (something she is known to have done).Theres also the added risk from washing off dung or bits of rotting flesh off a dog, dogs are extremely keen on rollingcin anything smelly,thiscis my wee dog tilly spotting a nice sprad ofcstale fox poop

tilly dirty


The Brontes assortment of pets in a time before antibiotics and effective disinfectants may have been responsible for several of their minor aliments .Humans can be infected with the following disease  by birds …


Allergic Alveolitis affects the alveoli of a person’s lungs, decreasing the lungs’ capacity and making it hard to move air through the lungs when breathing.

Psittacosis ,,Symptoms in humans may include fever, headache, muscle aches, a dry cough and shortness of breath.

Having recently had a run in with a tick thats left a scar ,I would add Lymes disease to the list  of assorted other viruses ,parasites and diseases.My smaller dog and cat both regualry had to have ticks removed over summer, I had a few ,but most i removed with a tick hook ,I dont know if tick hooks were used in Victorian times but if not ,ticks are a significant health risk Emily would sit with her arm round keeper infront of the fire ,he also  clearly used to sit in her room, the one on my shoulder which caused the scar probably crawled off my dog onto me by that route or fell off onto a pillow maybe and crawled on while I was asleep.Sheep ticks are quite small and hard to see Hedgehog ticks are harder to accidently pick up.

Inital symptoms are very flu like ,high temperature,aching joints ,headaches,tiredness ,loss of energy ,etc vut with a distinctive rash ,which is initially localised,I am avoiding too much gruseome detail in the post ,but later affects can be life long and life restricting,causing among others palsy, nerve damage ,heart problems, neurological problems.

Relapsing tick disease is another possible explanation for somevof the re occuring Bronte fevers,colds ,chills etc.

The remaining infection possibilities I know less about  so are just listed.

 Giardia is a parasitic infection that can cause severe gastrointestinal upset in its hosts. Spread by ingesting contaminated food or water, Giardia causes weight and appetite loss, diarrhea, depression, and dehydration.

Diseases commonly contracted from cats and dogs

grey bonnet back

Cat-scratch disease, also called bartonellosis, is by far the most common disease caught from pets . Approximately 25,000 people are diagnosed every year in the United States alone . Cat-scratch disease can occur when a person is bitten or scratched by an infected cat or possibly Fleas may also play a role in the transmission of infection. People with cat-scratch disease usually have swollen lymph nodes, especially around the head, neck, and upper limbs. They may also experience fever, headache, sore muscles and joints, fatigue, and poor appetite. Healthy adults generally recover with no lasting effects, but it may take several months for the disease to go away completely. People with compromised immune systems may suffer more severe, even fatal, consequences.


Usually, a person who gets toxoplasmosis gets very few symptoms. But  it  can cause a flu-like illness and/or muscle aches and pains lasting for a month or even longer. “A very sizeable proportion of humans — 30%-40% — have been infected with toxoplasmosis, “Most people have a very  very mild form of the  disease or no symptoms at all. But in people [with weakened immune systems] it can be fatal.Recent work at the University of Leeds has found that the parasite produces an enzyme that may contribute to the behavioral changes by altering the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in mood, sociability, attention, motivation and sleep patterns..Maybe this and not extreem shyness was the cause of Charlotte and Emilys lack of social graces,unlikely but something to ponder.




english mastiff



About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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2 Responses to The Brontes and their pets in sickness and in Health,till death do us part

  1. paper doll says:

    Fasinating information! Thank you!

    • Thank you ,I was not too sure about this post I had it in draft a long time because I planned a lot more research ,butI doubt I will ever have the time to do enough to make a more coherent post . I thought someone with more medical knowledge might find it interesting as I feel there are at least some of the Brontes occasional bouts of illness that can be traced back to their pets .

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