Cats have a reputation for being clean, or at least cleaner than other pets. But that doesn’t mean you can’t catch diseases and parasites from your cat if you aren’t careful. So, what zoonotic diseases can you catch from a cat, and how serious are they?
What diseases can I catch from my cat? The most common are diseases caused by parasites, such as toxoplasmosis, tapeworm infestation, cryptosporidium (crypto), giardiasis, hookworm infestation and roundworm infestation. Most of these parasites live in your cat’s gut and are spread through exposure to cat feces. There are also several diseases spread by bacteria that you can catch from your cat, such as cat scratch disease, MRSA and salmonellosis. Most of these illnesses can be avoided by washing your hands after you handle your cat, its food or its poop.
The guide below uses information taken from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) and is sorted into alphabetical order. Some of the issues below are very common, while others are far less so, which is made clear through our ‘commonness rating’.
Perhaps the most important section of this guide is the last one. That’s our section on how to avoid catching diseases from your cat. So read to the end unless you want to get sick!
Campylobacteriosis (Campylobacter spp.)
Campylobacteriosis is caused by bacteria in the genus Campylobacter. It is perhaps the most common cause of gastrointestinal distress in the world.
How Is Campylobacteriosis Spread:
People develop campylobacteriosis in a few different ways. One is by eating undercooked food like meat and eggs. It’s also possible to spread campylobacter bacteria by not properly washing cutting boards, utensils and countertops. According to the NY State Department of Health, even just one drop of infected water from an infected source—like a defrosting chicken—carries enough bacteria to infect a person.
As for how campylobacteriosis spreads from a person to a cat, that’s far less common, but it can happen. Cats can develop the condition through eating undercooked/raw meat just like you can. Campylobacter bacteria are shed in poop, so you could develop campylobacteriosis after cleaning your cat’s litter tray and don’t wash your hands afterwards, for example. If you then touch your eyes or nose, or an open wound, or God forbid put your fingers in your mouth, that’s how the bacteria get into your system.
Who Is at Risk of Campylobacteriosis:
Anyone can develop campylobacteriosis. If you have a strong immune system, you can rest at home and your immune system will take care of it for you.
However, there are three core at-risk groups. These are the under-5s, the over-65s, and anybody with a compromised immune system e.g. because of a pre-existing condition. Campylobacteriosis can kill people in these at-risk groups.
Cats can normally shake off a campylobacteriosis infection. Some don’t even display symptoms. An older cat or a kitten may have difficulty though—so as always, talk to your vet if you notice that your cat is sick.
Symptoms of Campylobacteriosis in Cats:
Cats experience similar symptoms to people when they develop campylobacteriosis. The key sign is diarrhea, which may contain blood. However, certain bacteria will affect people and animals differently. It’s therefore common for a cat to carry campylobacter and shed it in their poop, but not display any symptoms.
Symptoms of Campylobacteriosis in People:
The symptoms of campylobacteriosis are similar to any kind of gastrointestinal distress. They are diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, nausea and occasionally vomiting. The diarrhea may contain blood, or it may not, as this depends on the level of damage to your digestive system. Symptoms begin a couple of days after exposure.
If you have a healthy immune system, campylobacteriosis should be a ‘self-limited illness’. That means it will gradually go away without the help of a medical professional. This normally takes around seven to ten days. However, it is possible to take advantage of antibiotic treatment, which should make symptoms stop sooner, typically within five days.
Cat Scratch Disease (Bartonella henselae)
Cat scratch disease, also known as CSD, is an infection you can develop when your cat scratches you. It can also be spread if your cat licks your skin, especially an an open wound or cut. CSD is caused by a kind of bacteria called Bartonella henselae, but can also be caused by other Bartonella species, although these are rarer.
How Is Cat Scratch Disease Spread:
This is a common theme you can expect to see throughout this guide: fleas are key to the spread of CSD. Cats can become infected when an infected flea bites them. For this reason, it’s very common for cats in shelters to develop the condition; the same goes for stray or feral cats. It is also possible for cats to develop the problem through fighting with other infected cats, or through getting a blood transfusion. And, as stated above, you can catch CSD through a cat scratch or lick.
Who Is at Risk of Cat Scratch Disease:
CSD is normally not a serious condition. What normally happens is that a person is exposed to the bacteria, but their body fights it off quickly and easily without causing fever or other symptoms. But again, the three at-risk groups (under-5s, over-65s, and the immunocompromised) can experience more severe symptoms. It is possible if left untreated, and with complications, for CSD to kill.
Symptoms of Cat Scratch Disease in Cats:
Similar to campylobacteriosis, your cat can develop CSD but not display any symptoms. It’s therefore not a given that if your cat is symptom-free that it doesn’t have CSD. And if you don’t think your cat has been exposed, you might be wrong: between one third and half of cats have been exposed to CSD bacteria in their lifetimes.
Some cats do experience symptoms. A cat that develops a CSD infection may experience a 2-3 day fever. Rare symptoms include vomiting and lethargy. Your cat’s lymph nodes may swell, too, although this can be difficult to notice.
Symptoms of Cat Scratch Disease in People:
The most common symptom of CSD in people is a small raised lump at the site of the scratch. The swelling can also spread to any nearby lymph nodes. These swellings develop a long time after the initial scratch/infection (one to three weeks). More serious symptoms include fever, eye infection and muscle pain.
Cat Tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum)
The cat tapeworm is like any other kind of tapeworm. It’s a kind of parasite that lives in your cat’s gut. Tapeworms can grow to be many feet long, and as they grow, they shed eggs that the cat then poops out. Tapeworms don’t make their hosts ill, so to speak, but they can cause stunted growth in young cats, or make your cat lose weight.
How Are Cat Tapeworms Spread:
You might be surprised to learn that fleas play a key role in spreading tapeworms. In fact, if it weren’t for fleas, they wouldn’t spread at all. That’s because the tapeworm has a unique life cycle unlike almost any other animal, and even unlike other parasites. Here’s how it works… In detail!
A tapeworm, like other kinds of worm, is divided into sections. The tapeworm grows from the head, meaning that sections develop at the head end and push the rest of the body back. As the sections at the bottom end get older, they detach from the body. Every section of the tapeworm’s body (called a ‘proglottid’) contains a sexually mature reproductive system. And because tapeworms are hermaphroditic, that means it can continually produce eggs without needing to mate. When the eggs are ready, the final section of the worm’s body detaches and is passed in your cat’s poop.
Once it’s outside of the cat’s body, the proglottid disintegrates and leaves behind lots of egg packets. This is where fleas come in. Flea larvae don’t drink blood like adult fleas; instead they eat whatever organic material they can find in their environment. That could be dead skin… Or it could be a tapeworm egg. Once inside the flea’s body, the egg packet (at this point termed an oncosphere) develops (and becomes a cysticercoid). The egg stays inside the flea’s body as it grows to full size. Then when the cat grooms itself and ingests the flea by accident, the egg is triggered to grow into an adult tapeworm. It attaches its ‘head’ to the intestinal wall and absorbs the energy it needs from the food your cat eats.
If you were to ingest one of these fleas by accident, then you would catch the tapeworm instead. The cat tapeworm can infect all sorts of mammals including people.
Who Is at Risk of Catching Cat Tapeworms:
Needless to say, it’s exceptionally rare for a person to catch a cat tapeworm. That’s because you would a) have to ingest a flea, and b) that flea would have to happen to have tapeworm eggs inside it. Even if your cat does have tapeworms, you would have to actively choose to put a flea in your mouth to catch them. For these reasons, almost all cases of cat tapeworms occur in children.
Symptoms of Tapeworms in Cats:
Tapeworms don’t typically cause severe symptoms. This makes sense, when you think about it—the tapeworm doesn’t want to make its host sick, because if the host gets sick and dies, the tapeworm won’t have any food! The worst symptom that tapeworms typically cause is weight loss.
There are other signs to look out for. You can sometimes see tapeworm segments around your cat’s anus or in its fresh poop. These segments look like grains of rice.
Symptoms of Tapeworms in People:
The symptoms of a tapeworm in a person are the same as those in a cat. The infected person may lose weight, or struggle to put on weight. And again, you can spot tapeworm segments in poop. Tapeworms in both people and cats can be treated with anthelmintics (worm-killing tablets) and they should go away quickly.
Cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium spp.)
Cryptosporidiosis is another parasitic disease. But unlike other parasites, crypto is a microscopic parasite that you can’t see with your naked eye.
How Is Cryptosporidium Spread:
Crypto spreads when an animal accidentally ingests infected poop. This typically happens when it drinks infected water (rather than just eating poop). If you were to drink untreated water from a river, for example, you could catch crypto if there was infected poop somewhere upstream; you wouldn’t see anything wrong with the water, but it could still be infected.
Who Is at Risk of Cryptosporidium:
Anyone can catch crypto, but unless you have a compromised immune system, it’s not going to cause severe symptoms and complications. The worse your immune system, the worse your body will fare trying to get rid of the condition: the longer it will last and the more severe it will be.
Symptoms of Cryptosporidium in Cats:
Crypto is rare in cats, and is essentially impossible for an indoor cat to catch. And if your cat does develop cryptosporidiosis, it’s possible to be symptomless, so you wouldn’t know. Like other gastrointestinal problems, diarrhea and vomiting are the most common symptoms.
Symptoms of Cryptosporidium in People:
The symptoms of crypto are like those of campylobacteriosis: diarrhea, cramping, vomiting and nausea. If you are an adult with a healthy immune system, your body will be able to fight off cryptosporidiosis without medical intervention. Symptoms should resolve within 1-2 weeks.
Diseases Caused By Cat Hair (Allergies)
An allergy, strictly speaking, isn’t a disease. But it’s worth discussing anyway since cat allergies affect so many people.
How Is It Spread:
Allergies are caused by a group of proteins. The one that causes most cat allergies is called Fel d1. There are seven other proteins (Fel d2 through Fel d8) that also cause cat allergies, but in fewer people.
Almost all cats secrete Fel d1 through saliva and their sebaceous glands. It gets into their fur, particularly when they groom, and attaches itself to the cat’s loose fur and dead skin. When the cat sheds these around the room, the allergens are still attached; when an allergic person comes into contact with them, they experience an allergic reaction.
Unfortunately, the precise reasons why people become allergic to cats aren’t clear. Both people who grew up around cats and people who have never had cats can have allergies.
Who Is at Risk:
Anybody can have a cat allergy: young and old, male and female, and from any geographical background. They can be managed with medicationd and immunotherapy injections.
Symptoms in People:
Cat allergies cause the typical symptoms of allergy: sneezing, a feeling of irritation in the throat or at the point of contact, red and watery eyes, and in serious cases, difficulty breathing.
Giardiasis (Giardia duodenalis)
Giardia is another kind of microscopic parasite. It can be found on the surface of water, in food, in soil, or in infected feces.
How Is Giardiasis Spread:
Like crypto, giardia spreads when an animal accidentally ingests them, typically when drinking water but also when eating food.
Giardia is common in untreated water. According to the EPA, raw sewage contains between 10,000 and 100,000 cysts per liter, treated sewage between 10 and 100 per liter, and 10 or fewer in surface water and infected tap water. Giardia is highly resistant to water disinfectants like chlorine and chloramine, so they are instead filtered out at water processing plants. It’s exceptionally uncommon for tap water to contain giardia, but it has happened.
Who Is at Risk of Giardiasis:
Giardia infections are more common in children than in adults. That’s because adults wash their hands after touching dirty surfaces or potentially infected areas. The EPA state that depending on geographical area, between 1-68% of children are infected with giardia; around the world, the majority children under five will have or have had giardia at some point.
Giardiasis is one of the most common parasitical infections among people. It’s thought that around 200 million people are infected each year, and Giardia lamblia—another kind of giardia parasite—is the most common parasite found in stool samples in the United States. All of this is to say that if you develop giardiasis, it probably isn’t from your cat. If you did catch it from your cat, that’s likely from cleaning your cat’s litter tray and not washing your hands.
Symptoms of Giardiasis in Cats:
The typical symptoms of giardiasis in cats are diarrhea, greasy stools and dehydration. It is also possible for the cat to display no symptoms.
Symptoms of Giardiasis in People:
The symptoms of giardiasis in people are the same as those in cats. You may experience diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. The diarrhea may be transient (occurring only for a short time) or chronic (occurring day after day). Less serious symptoms include abdominal cramps, bloating and gas. Your stool may appear greasy and pale, and may smell worse than usual.
In most people, symptoms resolve in 3 or 4 days, but in others they can last months or years. Giardiasis that is present for this long can cause severe weight loss and/or nutritional insufficiency. It’s estimated that around 4,600 people are hospitalized with giardiasis each year in the U.S.
Hookworm (Ancylostoma tubaeforme, Ancylostoma braziliense, Uncinaria stenocephala)
Hookworms are yet another parasite you can catch from your cat. They are spread through direct contact with larvae found in contaminated soil or sound. Hookworms live in the gut like other parasites, but they can spread in lots of ways, including by penetrating under the skin.
How Is It Spread:
It’s possible for your cat to catch these worms from the wild. Hookworms and similar species are known as soil-transmitted helminths, ‘helminth’ meaning parasitic worm. When an infected person or animal defecates outside, the eggs in their feces are left in the soil. These eggs eventually mature and hatch. The resulting larvae can then be picked up by an animal such as your cat when it walks by. There are several species, and one can also be transmitted through ingestion.
Hookworm is very, very widespread. It’s thought that somewhere around 576-740 million people around the world are currently infected with hookworm. Hookworm used to be just as common in the United States, particularly in the southeast. But because of a rise in living conditions, it’s now far less common than it used to be.
Who Is at Risk:
No group is more at risk of catching hookworm than others. That means young and old can catch it too. Once caught, no group is at risk of serious health problems arising from a hookworm infection. However, you certainly wouldn’t want to live with them!
Symptoms in Cats:
The symptoms of hookworms in cats are like those of other kinds of parasite. They can cause anemia and weight loss. These issues are most likely to appear in kittens, because kittens are smaller, so an infection of a certain number of parasites is more serious than in a larger cat. Severe hookworm infestations can kill kittens, but can easily be treated with anthelmintics (deworming tablets).
Symptoms in People:
Most people who have a hookworm infestation don’t display any symptoms. However, some people experience gastrointestinal problems. They can also cause blood less and resultant anemia as well as protein loss.
Depending on how you caught the hookworms, you may also experience another symptom: an itchy red squiggly line appearing on the skin. This is where a larva burrowed under the skin. Unlike other worms, these worms don’t survive for very long in an infected person. As such, symptoms resolve themselves after 4 to 6 weeks unless reinfestation occurs (which is possible if you don’t get your cat treated). Deworming tablets will resolve the problem quicker.
MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
MRSA is a kind of bacteria that has become immune to some antibiotics. The original bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, is still found on the skin of both people and animals. Through many decades of the use of antibiotics, S. aureus eventually mutated and became able to resist methicillin, a certain kind of antibiotic, and others. It can cause severe complications in those who catch it, especially those who have weak immune systems.
How Is It Spread:
MRSA can be caught in one of many ways. It is possible to catch it from your cat in the way you could catch any other bacterial infection from your cat: by petting it without washing your hands, touching its poop, or just living in the same environment as it.
However, it’s rarely possible to identify the origin of an MRSA infection. That’s because MRSA and regular S. aureus are so common; regular S. aureus lives harmlessly on the skin and/or in the nose of about 1 in 3 people. MRSA can do the same. You may therefore have been carrying MRSA for some time before it was able to infect a scratch or cut.
Who Is at Risk:
Anybody can catch MRSA. The average age of infected people is 39, and the most affected groups are 18-29 and 40-49. However, those with weakened immune systems like the elderly are at greater risk of experiencing the full severity of the condition. People can pass away from MRSA.
Symptoms in Cats:
Cats that carry MRSA don’t always display symptoms. That’s because they can carry the bacteria without necessarily experiencing infection, the same as you can carry S. aureus on your skin or in your nose. It’s therefore possible to catch MRSA from your cat even if it doesn’t appear sick.
It’s also possible for your cat to experience an MRSA infection just like you can. When cats develop an MRSA infection, it looks like any other kind of infection. They can develop symptoms on the skin like swelling and redness. Or, the infection may be a urinary tract infection or respiratory infection.
Symptoms in People:
The symptoms of MRSA are those of a generic infection: pain, high temperature, and soreness/swelling at the site of infection.
Plague (Yersinia pestis)
Yes, plague! It may not be common, but it’s possible for your cat to catch and pass on plague. There are several kinds of plague, the most common being bubonic plague and pneumonic plague. Bubonic plague is where the infection attacks the lymph nodes, while pneumonic plague is where it attacks the lungs. It is also possible for plague to infect the blood (septicemic plague).
How Is Plague Spread:
The bacterium Yersinia pestis is still found around the world despite attempts to eradicate it. Today’s plague vectors are still rodents and their fleas, particularly in the western United States. Both the rodents and the fleas can carry the disease, although by far the most common way for it to spread from one animal to another is through the flea. The flea bites an infected rodent, leaves the host for whatever reason, and finds another. Then when it bites its new host, the disease is passed on.
It is possible for your cat to catch plague in this way if it is an outdoor cat. There are several ways your cat could encounter these rodents and their fleas:
- If the rodent recently brushed against something that your cat brushes against
- If your cat gets into a fight with a rodent with these fleas
- If your cat hunts for and catches a rodent with these fleas
- If your cat finds a dead rodent with these fleas on it
- If your cat fights with a cat that has these fleas on it (highly unlikely)
If your cat brought those fleas home, and those fleas bit you, you could then catch the plague just like your cat. It is also possible to catch plague if you come into contact with a rodent vector; however, cats are more likely to explore areas where encountering one is possible.
Who Is at Risk of Plague:
Plague isn’t as serious an issue today as it was historically. The plague is now curable in most cases because it can be treated with antibiotics. The CDC state that it has a mortality rate of around 11%, which is bad, but nowhere near as bad as before antibiotics were discovered. Like most diseases, treatment for plague is most effective in the early stages of the disease (like the first 24 hours after infection).
As with other kinds of infection, plague is more serious in those with weak immune systems. That means the young, the elderly, and anybody immunocompromised because of an existing condition.
Symptoms of Plague in Cats:
Cats are highly susceptible to plague. Symptoms include:
- High fever
- Low appetite or not eating at all
- Lethargy (low energy)
- Swollen lymph nodes on the neck (bubonic plague)
- Respiratory symptoms ranging from a cough to difficulty breathing and pneumonia (pneumonic plague)
If your cat displays any of these symptoms, you should isolate it as soon as possible and talk to a vet. Plague is highly contagious because the fleas that spread it can easily go unnoticed.
Symptoms of Plague in People:
The symptoms of plague in people are broadly similar to those seen in cats. If you develop bubonic plague, your lymph nodes will swell dramatically, which is painful. Pneumonic and septicemic plague are typically more serious because pneumonic plague stops you from breathing properly, while septicemic plague attacks your organs (because the bacteria are in your blood).
General symptoms include high fever, chills, headache and weakness. You should seek medical attention for both you and your cat as soon as possible.
Rabies is perhaps the best known health issue on this list. It’s a disease spread by a virus that attacks a cat’s nervous system with fatal consequences. It can be prevented with a vaccine.
How Is Rabies Spread:
Rabies is spread when an infected animal bites one that isn’t infected. The virus itself is in the infected animal’s spit, as well as throughout its nervous system. So, when it bites another animal, it leaves behind a small amount of spit in the wound. The virus then multiplies and spreads through the new host’s system.
Rabies can also be spread through scratches or contact with saliva or nervous system tissue, although this is less common.
The virus is rare in the United States these days. However, it is still found in wild animals like foxes, raccoons and bats. These animals can pass the virus on to your cat, and your cat can then pass it on to you.
Who Is at Risk of Rabies:
Any person and any cat can contract rabies unless they have been immunized with a rabies vaccine. Rabies is just as deadly for people as it is for pets, and for young and old alike. It’s therefore very important to seek treatment as soon as you suspect you have been bitten by a rabid animal, be it your pet or a wild one.
Symptoms of Rabies in Cats:
The symptoms of rabies are what make it such a feared disease. They are the same in cats as they are in dogs. Cats with rabies will display behavioral changes: a previously friendly cat will become angry/defensive. It will pace around without resting, will pant uncontrollably, and experience progressive paralysis. Cats will pass away a few days after developing rabies symptoms, although on the plus side, the condition is not contagious until symptoms begin; symptoms can take days, weeks or even months to become apparent.
Symptoms of Rabies in People:
The symptoms of rabies in people are like those in cats and dogs: restlessness, drooling and paralysis. Unfortunately, rabies can only very rarely be reversed once symptoms have begun. You therefore must talk to a doctor as soon as you suspect you have been bitten by a rabid animals. Again, though, rabies can take days or weeks to progress from the incubation stage.
Contrary to its name, ringworm is a fungal infection. While it’s not caused by a worm, ringworm does cause raised red rings on the skin, which is where it gets its name from. These red rings may appear silver depending on your skin tone, and are scaly, dry, swollen and itchy. Ringworm can affect any patch of skin, but also the nails and scalp. It can spread from an animal to a person or vice versa.
How Is Ringworm Spread:
Ringworm is spread through direct contact. Say your cat has ringworm and you pet it; you can catch it that way. You can also pick up the ringworm fungus from touching infected objects that the cat has touched. It is also, of course, possible to catch it from sources other than cats like other people, other animals, or even infected soil.
Who Is at Risk of Ringworm:
Anybody can develop ringworm. It is highly contagious, but not serious.
Symptoms of Ringworm in Cats:
The signs of symptoms in cats can be difficult to see, because of your cat’s fur. Ringworm causes dry, cracked and crusty red rings of skin like it does in people. If the condition is allowed to continue without medical intervention, it will eventually cause hair loss at the point of infection, which will make it immediately obvious. It won’t cause your cat serious health effects, although it will cause irritation.
Symptoms of Ringworm in People:
The first symptom of ringworm that you’re likely to notice is that it’s itchy. This is a kind of itch that doesn’t go away, so if you know that your cat has ringworm, and you have an itchy spot that’s itchy throughout the day, you may have caught it. If you can see the area, you’ll see a raised red ring of skin. In bad cases the skin can become scaly and crack. If you catch it from your cat, it’s most likely to affect your fingers, as you would probably pick it up from petting your cat.
Ringworm can be fixed with antifungal cream.
Roundworms (Toxocara spp.)
Roundworms are another kind of intestinal parasite. They’re also known by the names ascarids and nematodes, and are common in pets, particularly dogs. Cats can catch them too. They vary in color from white to light brown and are bigger than some of the other parasites listed here: they can reach several inches long.
There are two species that your cat is likely to catch. These are Toxocara canis and Toxascaris leonina. T. canis is the worse of the two, not least because people can catch them.
How Are Roundworms Spread:
These worms spread through poop. When an infected animal goes to the toilet, its poop will have roundworm eggs in it. Your cat then has to somehow ingest the eggs in this poop to catch them. It’s for this reason that dogs catch roundworms more easily than cats (as dogs often eat poop).
Roundworms live in the intestine. However, they can also migrate around your cat’s body. They can end up in the lungs or in the liver.
Who Is at Risk of Roundworms:
Anybody can catch roundworms, and roundworm infestation is surprisingly serious. If they stay in your gut, they can cause slight nutritional deficiencies. But if they travel around the body, which they can, then they can cause severe health effects. These can happen to anyone who catches a roundworm infection.
Symptoms of Roundworms in Cats:
It’s possible for a minor infestation of roundworms to go unnoticed. Your cat may display no symptoms. However, many do, and symptoms may include:
- Pot-bellied appearance
- Painful belly
- Weight loss and malnourishment
- Decreased coat quality
It’s rare for a cat to have more severe symptoms than these. If you get the chance, you can check your cat’s vomit or diarrhea for roundworms and their eggs.
Symptoms of Roundworms in People:
The symptoms of roundworms in people are unpleasant, to say the least. If the roundworms were to stay in one place in the gut, that wouldn’t be a problem. The trouble is that they don’t.
According to the CDC, there are two types of illness that roundworms cause. One is called ocular toxocariasis. This is where roundworm larvae travel from the gut all the way up to the eye. Once there, they can cause vision loss, eye inflammation and damage to the retina.
If that doesn’t sound horrible enough, the other condition you can experience is called ‘visceral toxocariasis’, and that’s when the worms travel to various other bodily organs like the liver, the lungs and the nervous system. The symptoms of this include fever, fatigue, coughing and pain.
While these conditions are awful, they can be cleared up relatively easily. The same anthelmintics (worming tablets) mentioned above also serve to kill roundworms. Examples of anthelmintics that fix toxocariasis include albendazole and mebendazole. If you suspect that you may have an infection, seek treatment as soon as possible, because the eye damage they can cause can be permanent.
Salmonellosis (Salmonella spp.)
Salmonellosis refers to the disease that Salmonella causes. Salmonella is a kind of bacteria. It’s the kind of bacteria that’s responsible for the majority of food-related illnesses in the U.S. So, if you eat food that makes you sick, salmonella is the likely culprit. It’s also possible to catch Salmonella from cats.
How Is It Spread:
Salmonellosis is spread in many different ways. According to the WHO, it can be spread by:
- Bacteria distributed by both wild and domestic animals. These bacteria can be ingested in food, or picked up from a surface. So, if your cat has salmonellosis and leaves bacteria on a surface that you subsequently touch, you could pick it up that way.
- The food chain, from animal feed, through primary production, and through to households and food service establishments.
- Person to person transmission.
In many cases the origin of the illness is unclear. A minority of salmonellosis cases overall are spread as part of an outbreak, i.e. many people getting sick from the same thing at once from one particular source.
Who Is at Risk:
Symptoms of salmonellosis are relatively mild, and recovery occurs without treatment in the majority of cases. However, in the young and the old, symptoms can be more severe. The core issue for these groups is that salmonellosis causes dehydration, and dehydration can have severe health effects. It is possible for salmonellosis to kill, although it’s rare.
Symptoms in Cats:
Cats often don’t display symptoms of salmonellosis. If they do, the most common are vomiting and diarrhea. Kittens display symptoms more readily than adult cats.
Symptoms in People:
The World Health Organization state that the symptoms of salmonellosis in people include ‘acute onset of fever, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea and sometimes vomiting.’ These symptoms appear between six and 72 hours after the ingestion of salmonella, with 12-36 hours being the most common incubation time. They then last for between two and seven days.
You shouldn’t need help from a doctor. Monitor your condition by taking your temperature. Alleviate symptoms by staying as hydrated as possible; if you can’t keep water down, try sucking on ice chips instead.
Sporotrichosis (Sporothrix spp.)
Sporotrichosis is a fungal disease better known as “rose gardener’s disease”. It got its common name because the fungus that causes it, Sporothrix, lives in soil and on plants like roses, sphagnum moss and hay. It’s caught when you come into contact with the spores of this fungus in the environment. It’s also possible for your cat to develop this condition, and then for you to catch it from your cat.
How Is It Spread:
Sporothrix is a family of fungi. Fungi spread through spores. When the spores reach maturity, the fungus releases them into the air so that they can find somewhere to grow, like a plant seed planting itself.
If you come into physical contact with the spores of certain funguses, they can grow on your skin. The skin offers moisture and minerals, while skin and dead skin provide energy. So, if you somehow get Sporothrix spores on your skin, they can develop into an infection.
Who Is at Risk:
Anyone can get a Sporothrix infection. You’re more likely to get one if you handle plants, soil and moss a lot e.g. if you’re a gardener or spend lots of time outdoors. If your cat has a Sporothrix infection, then anybody who touches it can get the infection too.
Symptoms in Cats:
Symptoms in cats aren’t obvious at first. The first signs are small draining wounds that turn into raised lumps.
Symptoms in People:
The MSD Manual states that symptoms in people are as follows:
In sporotrichosis, an infection of the skin typically starts on a finger or hand as a small, painless bump (nodule). The bump slowly enlarges and forms an open sore.
Over the next several days or weeks, the infection spreads through the lymphatic vessels of the finger, hand, and arm to the lymph nodes, forming more nodules and open sores along the way. Pus from the lymph nodes may break through the skin, causing an opening that infected material drains through. Even at this stage, there is little or no pain. Usually, people have no other symptoms. This infection is seldom fatal.
Other symptoms are rare. An infection in the lungs may cause pneumonia, with a slight chest pain and cough. Lung infection usually occurs in people who have another lung disorder, such as emphysema.
Joint infection causes swelling and makes movement painful.
Very rarely, sporotrichosis spreads throughout the body. Such infections are life threatening and are more common among people with a weakened immune system.
Fungal issues can be fixed with antifungal tablets and creams. The most common treatment for sporotrichosis is itraconazole, which is taken by mouth for three to six months. Talk to your vet about similar medications your pet can take.
Ticks spread many different diseases. The most well known is Lyme disease, but you can also catch all sorts of other things like babesiosis, anaplasmosis, tularemia, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and many, many more. If you have an outdoor cat it can pick up ticks from the wild and bring them home. If left untreated, these ticks will eventually drop off of their own accord and find a place to hide. If one of these ticks bites you, you’ll catch the same disease your cat did.
How Is It Spread:
Tickborne diseases are spread through tick saliva. When a tick bites, it releases a small amount of saliva into the bite. This happens because its saliva contains numbing agents that stop your cat/you from feeling the bite. If you can’t feel the tick’s bite, you don’t know you have a tick, and it has a better chance of successfully feeding.
Unfortunately, ticks can carry many different diseases. They catch these from animals they feed on and then spread them around, just like fleas do with tapeworm eggs. This is the main reason why you shouldn’t squeeze a tick, because doing so makes it release its meal back into the bloodstream of its host, along with lots of bacteria.
Who Is at Risk:
Ticks live outdoors, so if you have an outdoor cat, it can catch ticks. An indoor cat won’t catch ticks unless an outdoor pet, or you, brought them home.
Outdoor cats that spend lots of time in grassy areas are at particular risk. That’s because ticks sit on blades of grass waiting for animals to pass them by, and when one does, they brush onto them or drop down onto them. If your outdoor cat only has access to suburban areas with short grass, there’s less chance it will catch ticks.
As for people, the ticks that feed on cats will all feed on people too. The diseases that ticks spread can affect anyone.
Symptoms in Cats:
The symptoms depend on the precise disease your cat caught from a tick. The most common symptom is irritation around the tick bite site.
What you will hopefully notice is that your cat has a tick on it, which you then get rid of properly. Your cat may also display no symptoms. Take it to the vet if you notice it has been bitten by a tick even if it doesn’t seem sick.
Symptoms in People:
Again, symptoms vary. You may experience irritation at the site of the bite, fever and chills, and aches all over. Certain tickborne diseases have very specific symptoms, such as Alpha-gal syndrome, which occurs after being bitten by a Lone Star tick; this causes allergy to red meats.
If you didn’t know, you’re supposed to take tweezers and grasp the tick around the base of its neck as close to your/your cat’s skin as possible. You then have to gently and consistently pull away from the skin with the tweezers and the tick should release. Don’t yank at it otherwise its head will detach from its body and stay in your skin/your cat’s skin.
Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma gondii)
Toxoplasmosis is another disease spread by parasites. It’s caused by a parasite caused Toxoplasma gondii, which is one of the most common in the world—up to 50% of people in the world either have or have had the condition. While the most common route of transmission is through eating undercooked and contaminated meat, the second most common is through exposure to cat feces.
How Is It Spread:
As you might expect with one of the world’s most common parasites, it can be spread in several ways. Most people who catch them catch them from undercooked meat and shellfish. Toxoplasma parasites may be present in food because of cysts—the dormant version of parasites that are harder to kill—or through exposure to a source of parasites like feces.
People also regularly catch them through touching cat feces or the surfaces it has been on. If the person then touches their mouth or eyes, the parasite gets into their body. This can be prevented through washing the hands or wearing gloves.
Who Is at Risk:
Any person and any cat can catch Toxoplasma parasites. Toxoplasmosis has worse effects on people who are pregnant or who have weakened immune systems. It can cause miscarriage and other serious complications for the baby, particularly if you catch it early during pregnancy. When the problem is passed on to the baby, it’s properly termed ‘congenital toxoplasmosis’.
If you have a weakened immune system then the infection can spread around the body, e.g. to the brain or eyes. This happens because your body can’t fight off the parasites as well as they would normally.
Symptoms in Cats:
Toxoplasmosis very rarely causes symptoms of ill health in cats. If it does, it causes fever, loss of appetite and lethargy. But whether your cat displays symptoms or not, it will shed parasites in its feces for up to three weeks after it’s infected.
Symptoms in People:
According to the UK’s NHS website, toxoplasmosis does not usually cause symptoms and most people who have it don’t realize they have it. If you do get symptoms, they’re likely to be:
- High temperature
- Aching muscles
- Feeling sick
- Sore throat
- Swollen glands
Symptoms normally get better on their own in six weeks. Fortunately, once you’ve had toxoplasmosis, you can’t catch it again.
How to Avoid Catching Diseases from Your Cat
None of the zooonotic diseases above are pleasant to catch. So, while it might be unlikely for you to catch them from your cat, you should nevertheless take basic precautions to avoid them. These are good practise even if catching diseases is unlikely, because they keep your hands and your house clean.
Wash Your Hands After Touching Your Cat
This is basic hygiene protocol that you should follow when you touch any pet. Your pet cat cleans itself with its tongue, which it uses to clean every part of its body. Imagine for a moment, though, that you met somebody new and shook their hand. If you learnt that they’d recently licked their hand and left it to dry, would you not then wash your hand? Or at least use hand sanitizer?
While not washing your hands after you pet your cat is almost always fine, it’s only fine until it’s not fine. If you’re concerned about the diseases above, washing your hands after petting or handling your cat is a great way to avoid the spread of diseases. This is also recommended practise if your cat has a known health issue, particularly a skin issue, and you have more than one cat; picking up a cat with a skin issue and touching another cat is a good way of spreading disease.
You don’t need to wash your hands in any special way. Washing them with regular soap is enough. Be sure to get under your fingernails, in between your fingers, and a little way up your wrist when you wash them. This is good practise whenever you wash your hands anyway.
Empty Your Cat’s Litter Tray Carefully
Since many of the parasites and diseases above are spread through contact with cat poop, you should keep your cat’s litter tray clean. That means emptying it regularly, ensuring that the area around the tray stays clean, and not letting your cat walk in its own mess (as much as that’s possible). Follow these steps to keep the tray as clean as possible:
- Wear gloves whenever you touch the tray or its contents. This stops you from getting any germs or parasites on your hands.
- Do your best to empty the tray without physically touching your cat’s poo. There are a few ways of doing this: grabbing it with a plastic bag, scooping it, emptying it—so long as you minimize contact, you’re doing it right.
- Wash the gloves after use. Thick kitchen gloves are best for this. This means that when you put them away, they won’t contaminate anything they touch. If you use anything like a scoop, wash that too.
- Wash your hands after interacting with the tray, even if you had gloves on. Just to be safe!
These steps may add a couple of minutes to the tray-emptying or -cleaning process, but those couple of minutes minimize the spread of harmful disease.
Wash Your Cat’s Litter Tray Regularly
It’s easy to get into the habit of emptying your cat’s tray regularly, but not actually cleaning it. That can happen because you clear away your cat’s mess frequently, so it doesn’t get the tray physically dirty, or at least noticeably dirty. The trouble is that the germs and most of the parasites listed above aren’t visible to the naked eye, so it’s still dirty, just not obviously so.
As such, you should clean your cat’s litter tray regularly. Once every few weeks is a good starting point. You can do this through the following procedure:
- Empty the tray of all of its contents
- Spray it with dish soap, preferably fragrance free dish soap (bleach might be good at killing germs, but your cat won’t use its tray if it stinks of bleach or another cleaner)
- Wipe it clean with disposable tissue or cloth until it’s dry
- Replace the kitty litter so that it’s ready for use
There is a problem with keeping your cat’s litter tray as clean as this. It’s that your cat may not want to use it because it doesn’t smell like your cat anymore. Cats use pheromones to navigate the world far more than they use their senses of sight. So, if your cat’s litter tray doesn’t smell like your cat anymore, it may not view it as its place to go to the toilet. You can get around this either by putting a small amount of old kitty litter back in. It doesn’t have to be soiled, just old. Or, before you put the kitty litter back in, you could rub something like a cat toy or cat bed on the freshly cleaned litter tray to transfer some smell that way.