There are many diseases that people can catch from their pets or other domestic animals, and even farm animals. Even though the number of zoonoses that cats can spread to humans is lower than in other species, as a cat guardian, you should be aware of their dangers.
In this post, we will look at some of the most common zoonotic diseases that can be passed from cats to humans. We’ll also include some information on how you can prevent this from happening and how you can prevent your cat from getting sick in the first place.
Who is at risk?
There are certain categories of people who have a higher risk of catching and developing a medical condition from cats. People who have an immature or weakened immune system are more susceptible to zoonotic diseases, and more importantly, they have a higher likelihood of developing a more severe form.
This includes infants, people who are undergoing chemotherapy, people who suffer from AIDS, or those that have chronic diseases. Pregnant women are also at a higher risk, especially since zoonoses pose a threat not only to the mother but also to the fetus.
Individuals who are born with immune deficiencies and those that have received bone marrow or organ transplants are also more likely to develop a severe form of a zoonotic disease.
How are zoonotic diseases spread?
It depends on what type of zoonoses your cat has. Bacterial and viral infections can be spread through bites and scratches, saliva, fluids that might come out of the animal’s nose or mouth, their feces, or urine.
Some parasites or protozoans can be transmitted through feces, too, and we’ll discuss one of the most dangerous ones in the sections below. Fungal infections can be spread very easily, so merely touching your cat’s coat or skin can lead to you catching the microorganisms that cause the disease.
Common feline zoonotic diseases
Pasteurella multocida is a germ that can be found in up to 90% of all cats. Cat bites can be dangerous because of it, and if you are unlucky enough to sustain such an injury, it could lead to severe swelling, pain, redness, and even more complications such as sepsis. In general, however, this type of infection is treated effectively with antibiotics.
Salmonella poisoning can be caused by you coming in contact with a cat’s feces, especially if she is an outdoor cat that feeds on wild animals or raw meat. People generally get this type of poisoning from contaminated food, but the risk of them catching it from their cats shouldn’t be ignored. In most cases, this infection resolves on its own, but some people might need medical assistance to prevent the spread of the infection to other organs.
CSD (Cat scratch disease) is also caused by a bacterium and it can be transmitted through bites and scratches. An infected wound will be swollen, red, and painful, and it can usually resolve on its own. However, if the person who caught this germ from their cat has a weakened immune system, the symptoms could go on for months. Some of the more severe cases call for antibiotic therapy.
Rabies is a viral disease that can be prevented by vaccinating your cat. In North America, cats are known to spread it more than any other animals, including dogs. Rabies is fatal in almost all cases, which is why vaccination is paramount, especially if your cat tends to come in contact with other wild animals.
Scabies is caused by a mite that affects the cat’s skin. Even though it’s less common than ticks and fleas, it can still show up in cats, and since it’s quite contagious, it’s known to pass on to humans quite easily. The mites burrow into the skin and cause itchiness and red lesions. Fortunately, most cases can be solved with the appropriate treatment.
Fleas and tapeworms are two of the most common problems that pet parents have to deal with, in both cats and dogs. Fleas carry tapeworm eggs, and while it might be uncommon for a person to swallow a flea, it can still happen. Tapeworms can also be spread through the segments that the cat eliminates through their feces.
If you or your family members regularly come in contact with your cat’s feces and you forget to wash your hands right after manipulating the litter, for example, you could be exposed to Roundworms and Hookworms.
Both of these are intestinal parasites that can contaminate humans, so deworming your cat regularly is essential to keeping your pet and your family safe. Roundworms are particularly dangerous since their larvae can migrate into a person’s eye, causing eye discomfort, pain, and visual problems, and a variety of other systemic issues.
Ringworm is by far the most common type of fungal infection that people can get from cats. If your cat has ringworm, you might notice dry and scaly patches on their skin. In humans, it causes itchy and red lesions that can be found in the feet, on the scalp, or even in a person’s beard or groin.
Getting rid of ringworm is challenging particularly because the fungal spores remain in the environment for several months. So, even if you treat your cat and yourself, you might become reinfected if you don’t thoroughly disinfect your home.
Toxoplasmosis is by far the best-known type of protozoal disease that cats can spread to humans, and it is particularly dangerous for infants, people with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women. Most cats become infected with Toxoplasma gondii by eating small rodents and birds.
Since many cats don’t show any symptoms at all, you might not even realize when you could become infected, too. In people, it causes symptoms such as seizures, diarrhea, vomiting, and confusion, as well as flu-like aches and fever. Since this disease can be spread through the cat’s feces, it is essential for pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals to avoid cleaning the litter box or at least use gloves while doing so and then washing their hands thoroughly.
Other protozoal infections that you can catch from cats are giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis, which both affect the digestive tract.
Preventing zoonotic diseases
As you might have noticed, there are many diseases that you can get from cats, but that doesn’t mean that all cats are infected with any of the microorganisms that we have discussed in this article.
More often than not, paying attention to your cat’s behavior, bathroom habits, and general appearance can tell you whether something is wrong or not. Vaccinating your cat in accordance with the plan recommended by your vet is the right way of going about things, especially if you want to eliminate the risk of rabies.
Deworm your cat regularly and make sure that your pet doesn’t have any fleas or ticks. Indoor cats are less exposed to getting infected with any of the diseases we have mentioned.
Clean your cat’s litter box every day, but avoid doing it yourself if you know that you have a compromised immune system. If you can’t avoid it, use disposable gloves. Make sure to thoroughly wash the litter box with hot water at least twice per month to kill any potential germs that might have remained on its surface.