Most feline diseases only affect cats, but some are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted to people. While most healthy people are safe from contracting diseases from their cat, our Just Cats Clinic team wants you to be aware of diseases you can catch from your cat so you can take the appropriate measures to protect you and your family.
You can catch rabies from your cat
Rabies is a viral disease most commonly transmitted through an infected animal’s bite. Wildlife, such as bats, skunks, raccoons, and foxes, can carry the virus, and these animals are the most common source of the disease in the United States. Cats are highly susceptible to the rabies virus, which attacks the central nervous system and causes signs such as hypersalivation, depression, aggression, difficulty breathing, weakness or paralysis, and seizures. No cure exists for rabies, and once signs occur, the disease is almost always fatal. Your cat can pass the infection to you by biting you or licking an open wound. Humans who are exposed can receive post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to counteract the disease. All cats, including those who live indoors, should be kept up to date on their rabies vaccination to protect against this dangerous disease.
You can catch bacterial diseases from your cat
Bacterial diseases that your cat can transmit to you include:
- Cat scratch disease — Cat scratch disease is caused by Bartonella henselae, and the bacteria can be carried in an infected cat’s saliva and by cat fleas. Cat flea bites are the most common infection source for cats, and they, in turn, can transmit the disease to humans by scratching them, biting them, or licking an open wound. Typically, infected cats don’t exhibit signs. If infected, most healthy humans have mild signs, such as blisters at the scratch or bite site, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and headache, and they tend to recover without lasting effects. Immunocompromised people may suffer more severe issues, such as eye, brain, or heart infection. The best way to prevent cat scratch disease is to provide year-round flea protection for your pet, keep your cat indoors, avoid cat scratches and bites, and wash your hands after handling your cat.
- Pasteurella multocida — Approximately 70% to 90% of cats carry this bacteria in their mouths, and if your cat bites you, the wound can be significantly infected. Cat bites infected with P. multocida typically develop pain, swelling, and redness at the wound site within about 24 to 48 hours. These infections usually are managed successfully with antibiotics, but heart valve infection can occur in rare cases. If your cat bites you, wash the wound thoroughly as soon as possible and monitor the area for redness and swelling.
- Salmonellosis — Cats can carry Salmonella bacteria in their feces, potentially infecting you. Salmonellosis causes diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain that typically begin about one to three days after exposure. Cats who eat raw meat are at increased risk for carrying Salmonella, and prevention includes feeding your cat cooked or commercially processed food, preventing them from eating rodents or birds, and washing your hands thoroughly after cleaning your cat’s litter box.
You can catch protozoal diseases from your cat
Protozoal diseases your cat can transmit to you include:
- Toxoplasmosis — This disease is caused by the parasitic protozoan Toxoplasma gondii. Cats are infected when they eat an infected rodent, bird, or something contaminated by an infected animal’s feces. The protozoa don’t cause overt illness in cats, and they can shed the parasite in their feces for up to two weeks. Most healthy people aren’t affected by the disease, but immunocompromised people and infants whose mothers are infected during pregnancy can develop severe illness. Prevention involves keeping your cat indoors, preventing them from eating rodents or birds, and ensuring pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals don’t clean the cat’s litter box.
- Cryptosporidiosis — Cryptosporidium organisms are transmitted by contact with an infected cat’s feces. The protozoa can cause diarrhea, vomiting, fever, abdominal cramps, and dehydration in cats and people. Immunocompromised people are at greatest risk. Prevention includes scheduling annual fecal examinations for your cat, and washing your hands thoroughly after cleaning your cat’s litter box.
- Giardiasis — Giardia are passed in infected feces and can spread to other animals or humans in contaminated water sources or surfaces. Signs include diarrhea, flatulence, abdominal pain, nausea, and dehydration. Most human infections are caused by ingesting contaminated water or food and are not cat-related. Prevention includes scheduling annual fecal examinations for your cat, and washing your hands thoroughly after cleaning your cat’s litter box.
You can catch parasitic diseases from your cat
Parasitic diseases your cat can transmit to you include:
- Roundworms — People, especially children, can be infected by roundworms if they are exposed to soil contaminated by cat feces. The parasite larvae can migrate through the body causing signs that include fever, fatigue, coughing, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, and visual disturbances. Prevention includes scheduling annual fecal examinations for your cat, and washing your hands thoroughly after cleaning their litter box.
- Hookworms — People can be infected by hookworms if they are exposed to soil contaminated by cat feces. These parasites can penetrate the skin and migrate, causing skin irritation, itching, and pain. Prevention includes scheduling annual fecal examinations for your cat, and washing your hands thoroughly after cleaning their litter box.
Practicing good hygiene and keeping your cat up to date on their preventive care will help you avoid catching a disease from your furry friend. If you would like to schedule a fecal check for your cat, contact our Just Cats Clinic team so we can ensure they are parasite free.