Emerging zoonoses are a prominent global health threat. Human beliefs are central to drivers of emerging zoonoses, yet little is known about the factors that influence perceived risks of animal contact. We present an inductive account of zoonosis risk perception, suggesting that beliefs about the range of animals that are able to transmit diseases to each other influence zoonosis risk perception. Consistent with our account, in Study 1, we find that participants who endorse higher likelihoods of cross-species disease transmission have stronger intention to report animal bites. In Study 2, using real world descriptions of Ebola virus from the WHO and CDC, we find that communications conveying a broader range of animals as susceptible increase intentions to report animal bites and decrease perceived safety of wild game meat. These results suggest that cognitive factors may be harnessed to modulate zoonosis risk perception and combat emerging infectious diseases.