Illnesses that can be passed from animals to humans are known as zoonotic diseases. While most zoonotic diseases only impact our furry friends, there are a few that can pass from felines to humans. Fortunately, a few simple precautions can reduce your risk of catching an infection from your cat.
The chances of contracting a zoonotic disease from your feline friend are low, but certain individuals are at a higher risk— namely, those with a weakened immune system. That includes infants, elderly people, those with autoimmune diseases and anyone undergoing chemo- or drug therapy. These people should be careful of feline-carried bacteria, which in a few cases, can infect humans. Cat scratch disease, for example, takes hold when humans come into contact with the saliva of an infected feline either through scratches, bites or contact between that cat’s saliva and an open wound. Fortunately, most healthy adults recover fully from CSD. Salmonella is another bacterial infection that can leave humans with symptoms such as diarrhea, fever and stomach pain. Contaminated foods are often the culprit behind salmonella infections, putting outdoor cats at a higher risk of contracting and spreading the disease to the people. Pasteurella multocida is another feline bacterial infection that can pass to humans. Antibiotics are often needed to cure this illness that can cause pain, swelling and redness around the wound.
Bacteria aren’t the only culprits behind cat-to-person infections, though. Felines can also carry a handful of harmful Protozoan diseases that are caused by single-celled organisms. One of them, cryptosporidiosis, can cause diarrhea, vomiting, fever, cramps and dehydration in both cats and humans. It is passed through contact with infected feces, so owners should wear gloves and wash their hands when handling potentially infected material. Microscopic Giardia can also spread from pet to person and causes diarrhea, cramps, nausea and dehydration. The disease is often caused when humans ingest contaminated food or water and can be successfully treated with prescription drugs. Cats can also spread tiny parasites that cause toxoplasmosis, which leads to flu-like symptoms in humans. This disease spreads through contaminated material, so again, wear gloves when scooping the litterbox or handling anything else that could carry the disease.
In addition to these infections, cats can also pass internal and external parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, scabies and fleas to humans. Humans can also contract ringworm—a fungal infection and not a worm—through contact with an infection cat’s skin. Rabies is a viral disease that passes through bites and can be fatal.
To reduce your risk of contracting a zoonotic disease from your cat, avoid rough play that can result in bites or scratches, wash your hands after playing with your pet, and keep your feline indoors to reduce his exposure to diseases. Make sure your pet is up-to-date on his vaccinations, including rabies. You can also wash your hands or wear gloves when handling objects that may be contaminated by cat feces to reduce your risk of exposure to zoonotic disease.