We all know that cats are wonderful pets, and the benefits of living with felines far outweigh any negatives. But a few diseases can pass from cats to people. These diseases are called zoonotic diseases, or zoonoses. In observance of World Zoonoses Day on July 6th, Just Cats Clinic wants to highlight the diseases that cats can transmit to people, so you can practice preventive strategies, and minimize your risk. Read on to learn about five cat zoonotic diseases—toxoplasmosis, hookworms and roundworms, ringworm, cat scratch disease, and last but not least, rabies.

Cat zoonotic disease #1: Toxoplasmosis

Most people know that a pregnant person should not be on litter box duty. But do you know why? Cats commonly are carriers of a unicellular organism called Toxoplasma gondii. Cats may not show illness signs, despite passing the infective organism in their stool. People become infected through accidental hand-to-mouth transmission when handling cat feces, so everyone should practice standard hand hygiene after cleaning the litter box, and wear gloves while gardening. If a woman has not previously been exposed to toxoplasma organisms and becomes infected while pregnant, the effects on the baby can be serious. So, if you are expecting, always ensure someone else cleans the litter box daily.

Cat zoonotic disease #2: Hookworms and roundworms

Hookworm and roundworm eggs can be passed in a cat’s stool and infect humans. Hookworms can enter through people’s skin (i.e., cutaneous larval migrans)—for example, a person who walks barefoot in sand contaminated with cat feces. Accidental ingestion of cat roundworms can result in human infection of internal organs (i.e., visceral larval migrans) and eyes (i.e., ocular larval migrans). Each year in the United States, approximately 700 people—mostly children— lose vision in an eye from this condition. Because of these zoonotic parasites, pets are usually not allowed at beaches, and children’s sandboxes must be covered when not in use. Dispose of cat feces in the yard and litter pan daily. To prevent feline hookworm and roundworm zoonotic infection:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before cooking and eating.
  • Do not allow children to place dirty objects in their mouths.
  • Deworm cats regularly.

Our practice follows the Companion Animal Parasite Council’s recommendations that all cats need regular deworming and regular fecal examinations.

Cat zoonotic disease #3: Ringworm

Ringworm is a skin disease that can be transmitted from cats to people, but is not caused by a worm. Rather, a dermatophyte fungus causes ringworm—so named because the infection causes circular skin lesions in people. Cats infected with ringworm usually have scaly patches of skin with hair loss. The fungus can be picked up from the environment or from other infected cats. Immunocompromised people, the young, and the old are most at risk of catching ringworm from a cat. Prolonged treatment with oral and topical medication, as well as environmental decontamination, is sometimes required to clear the disease in cats. If your cat has ringworm and a person in the household develops skin lesions, call your physician.

Cat zoonotic disease #4: Cat scratch disease

People can get cat scratch disease when they are scratched by a cat who is infected with a bacteria called Bartonella, which is harbored in flea dirt (i.e., flea excrement) carried on a cat’s claws. The infected person can develop swollen lymph nodes and a fever. Severe disease can occur in immunocompromised people. Forty percent of cats carry this bacteria but are not sick. Always wash cat scratches well with soap and running water. You can decrease the risk of cat scratch disease passing from cats to people through effective flea control—if you have no cats in the household with fleas, cats will not harbor the bacteria on their claws. Ask our Just Cats Clinic team about the best flea control for your cat.

Cat zoonotic disease #5: Rabies 

Rabies is a virus transmitted in the saliva of infected animals. Effective vaccine protocols have made rabies less common, but 224 cats were reported as diagnosed with rabies in the United States in 2015. Also, remember the kitten that exposed a dozen people to rabies at Thanksgiving in 2017? In the United States, cats are the most commonly reported domesticated animal with rabies, in part because some people mistakenly believe that indoor cats do not need to be vaccinated. Virginia state law requires all cats 4 months of age and older to be vaccinated against rabies, plus regular boosters against rabies throughout their lives. Always call your physician any time a cat bites you, and call our team to discuss the best vaccination  plan for your cat or kitten. 

Just Cats Clinic wants you to enjoy your wonderful family feline without the worry of zoonotic disease transmission. Pick up pet poop promptly, practice good hand hygiene, and provide your cat with regular veterinary care to minimize the risk. We are here to serve you and your cat’s veterinary needs, so call us with any questions about possible zoonotic disease in your cat, or to schedule their vaccinations and regular testing.