While the vast majority of diseases that affect cats cannot be spread to humans, there are some diseases can be transmitted from cats to people. Although many are minor, some can be severe if your immune system is compromised.
As a cat owner, you have a great responsibility. Not only is it your job to provide the best quality of life possible for your cat, but you are also responsible for protecting your home and family from harm.
Many diseases that can spread to humans are due to outside influences or neglecting to clean your home environment with the necessary care. The physical act of handling feces without gloves is how many diseases are transmitted.
In this guide, we will detail the various types of diseases that can be transferred from cats to humans and the preventative measures you can take. While most diseases can be avoided, they do require you to be proactive.
- 1 Can a Human Get Sick from a Cat?
- 1.1 What are Zoonotic Diseases?
- 1.2 What Type of Diseases Can be Transmitted from Cats to Humans?
- 1.3 Who is Most at Risk?
- 1.4 Can Being Allergic to Your Cat Make You Sick?
- 1.5 How to Reduce Zoonotic Disease Risk Factors
- 1.6 Further Information About Cats:
Can a Human Get Sick from a Cat?
While most infectious diseases can only be spread to other cats, humans can fall victim to specific ailments. This is why consulting your vet as soon as your cat becomes ill is critical for not only your cat’s health but also for your well-being.
Many people have likely become sick due to their cat and never known it. Because illness and disease are so easy to attribute to contact with other people or to an uncertain environment, contracting a disease from your cat is not always something that you expect to happen.
What are Zoonotic Diseases?
Any disease that can be transmitted from an animal (cat) to a human is known as a zoonotic disease. Some animals can appear moderately healthy yet still carry germs that can cause disease in people.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that roughly 6 out of 10 infectious diseases that are found in people are spread from animals. Research also indicates that 3 out of 4 new contagious diseases that are found in humans originally stem from animals. It is estimated that thousands of people residing in the United States will fall ill due to harmful germs spread from animals. In many cases these animals are pets.
A zoonotic disease is primarily spread in one of four ways. Direct contact, indirect contact, animal bites, and food consumption. Many zoonotic diseases that are transferred from cat to human often involve direct and indirect contact.
Some examples may include…
- Touching your cat’s saliva, blood, urine, feces, etc. Petting can lead to illness if you come across a cut, scratch or open wound.
- A sickness of the indirect variety involves sharing the same living quarters. This aspect can be the toughest to defend against. The act of touching objects that have been contaminated can lead to illness. This issue becomes even more onerous if those objects involve the sofa, tables, chairs, etc. The contamination of common areas can lead to a severe problem.
What Type of Diseases Can be Transmitted from Cats to Humans?
While some conditions are minor others can prove to be serious and potentially fatal. We’ll now detail each of the four core areas of concerns and discuss several of the known diseases within each core grouping. There is a strong chance that you have been infected within at least one or more of these ailments.
One of the most common bacterial diseases is cat scratch disease (CSD). Caused by the bacterium Bartonella henselae, CSD is primarily transmitted from cat to person through scratches and bite wounds. An example would involve an infected cat licking a human’s open wound.
Most commonly transmitted to cats by infected fleas, CSD is more commonly found in cats who routinely stay outdoors. It is estimated that roughly 40% of all cats are infected with Bartonella henselae yet are symptom-free of the disease.
Humans who become infected with CSD often develop severe swelling at the site of the scratch. Swelling of the lymph nodes is also possible.
Other symptoms may include…
- Sore joints and muscle soreness
- A headache
- Loss of appetite
Individuals who are healthy usually recover without issue. However, CSD may take several months to leave your system altogether. Those who have a weakened immune system are at a higher risk for developing complications and more severe issues.
Infections of the brain, eyes, and heart may occur in some cases. Professional medical treatment, in the form of antibiotics, may be administered if your immune system is not able to fight off the disease naturally.
Ways to reduce the risk of CSD transmission include…
- Avoid being bitten or scratched by your cat due to aggressive play
- Hand washing after playing with your cat
- Administering regular methods of flea control
- Keep your cat indoors
Two of the other most documented bacterial diseases are Pasteurella multocida and salmonella poisoning.
- Pasteurella multocida is bacteria that is found in the mouths of up to 90% of all cats. Contracted via a bite, almost half of all those who are infected require some level of medical attention. Pain, redness, and swelling are the most common symptoms.
- Although extremely rare in humans, it is possible for your cat to transmit salmonella poisoning to you. Having direct physical contact with the stool of an infected cat can lead to a bacterial transfer. This is why it is critical to wear gloves while cleaning your cat’s litter box or handling stool. Primarily found in contaminated foods and raw meats, salmonella poisoning can cause fever, diarrhea, and extreme stomach discomfort in humans.
The most common parasitic ailment that can be transferred to humans is fleas. Causing similar symptoms in both cats and humans, it is almost impossible to escape fleas (to some degree) if you are a cat owner.
Another parasitic condition is scabies. Known as an external parasite, similar to fleas, scabies are mites that are passed from infected cats to humans. Scabies live deep within the skin and cause extreme itching, rash, and lesions.
The medical treatment of scabies often involves topical cream. To treat and prevent a future occurrence, your cat(s) and home must be thoroughly cleaned. This goes for clothing, furniture, bedding, etc. The same degree of detail must also be undertaken if you have a flea infestation. Although it can be a daunting task, hiring a professional cleaning crew will garner excellent results.
Other parasitic concerns include intestinal parasites, an organ-compromised condition known as visceral larva migrans, and a skin disease called cutaneous larva migrans.
- Intestinal parasites include hookworm and roundworm. Although most people who are infected do no show outward signs of illness, the handling cat feces is the culprit.
- Visceral and cutaneous larva migrans are both very complex diseases. The visceral larva can affect the organs and is usually the result of placing dirty (feces contaminated) fingers in your mouth. This can become a significant point of concern if you have young children in your home. Fatigue, fever, coughing, and stomach/abdominal pain are the most common symptoms. Cutaneous larva migrans is the result of touching contaminated elimination that contains Ancylostoma larvae. Digging under your skin, this condition can result in severe inflammation, pain, itching, and lesions. Partaking in proper washing methods after contacting feces can prevent an infection of this nature.
Caused by a collection of fungi, ringworm is the most notable fungal infection that can be transmitted from cats to humans.
Typically, infected cats that live in large areas with other animals, ringworm often appears as a dry and scaly textured patch on the skin. When humans are infected, the visuals are usually reddish, itchy lesions that contain a red border. Lesions can appear almost anywhere on the body, but the feet, scalp, and groin areas are the most common.
Humans contract ringworm by touching an infected cat’s fur or skin. Fungal spores from a cat cause the transfer of infection. Difficult to eliminate, a thorough house cleaning is often needed to secure your home. To prevent an issue in the future, it is wise to place infected cats in a single room together. This will spare your home from a complete infestation.
If you become infected with ringworm, the treatment usually involves antifungal medication. The type of medication largely depends on the severity of the infection and its location.
One of the most common protozoal diseases is a condition known as cryptosporidiosis. Transmitted to humans after contact with infected feces, symptoms can include abdominal pain, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Preventative measures to protect yourself (and your cat) from this disease include annual fecal exams. Through the process of examining your cat, an evaluation and diagnosis can be made from the findings.
Other measures of prevention include wearing gloves while handling feces. As is the case with many of the diseases, avoiding direct contact with feces is recommended.
Another feces transferable illness is toxoplasmosis. Developing in cats after eating an infected bird or rodent (or coming in contact with infected feces), a sick cat can produce the infection by releasing it during elimination. Human contact with infected feces, litter, soil, etc. can result in an infection.
Symptoms of toxoplasmosis can mimic flu symptoms in people who have an already weakened immune system. However, many people who become infected with this disease display no symptoms at all.
Commonsense hygiene practices and responsible litter box cleaning can is a strong preventative measure against toxoplasmosis.
- It is vital to pay special attention to your children if you have a cat. Although the notion of an adult handing feces with their bare hands seems out of the question, it can become a genuine issue if you have children under the age of 5. This is why it is important to clean any litter boxes at every opportunity and monitor how your children interact with your cats and their restroom areas.
Spreading from an infected animal (cat) to humans through the act of biting or scratching, the viral disease known as rabies is serious and often fatal.
Although rare for a true indoor cat to become infected with rabies, cats that spend time outdoors can fall victim to this disease. Bats and raccoons are two of the most notable carriers.
Preventative measures involve the vaccination of your cats. In many areas within the United States, this practice is required by law.
- To protect yourself against rabies, it is critical to avoid all contact with wildlife. Always keep a respectable distance from deer, foxes, raccoons, etc. This is vitally true if you are witnessing strange behavior. If you are bitten by an animal, seek immediate medical attention and detail the event.
Who is Most at Risk?
Those who are most at risk are primarily the young, elderly, and any individual who has a compromised immune system. If you have a disease or illness, you are naturally at a higher risk of becoming affected.
Infants and Children
This group is at a greater risk due to a general lack of immune system development. Weak due to age, the body of infants and toddlers are not yet equipped to handle the complexity of many cat-to-human diseases.
If you have a youngster, it is crucial to take steps to shield them from cat feces, litter, and a sick or injured cat.
- Infants and children should be supervised at all times when in the presence of a cat. Youngsters are often bitten and scratched when a well-meaning play goes wrong. Teach your child how to pet your cat while also avoiding wild and frantic hand motions.
Low Immune Health
Weakened and depleted immune health brought on by other forms of illness can leave your body naturally compromised. This can open the door to cat-to-human diseases.
If your body has been taxed by AIDS or cancer, for example, you are at a significant disadvantage. Although most cat-to-human diseases are not fatal if your body has been overwhelmed by other conditions you may display a greater degree of symptoms and require medical attention for a cat transmitted disease.
- If your health is severely compromised, you may wish to consult with family, friends, and your physician to see if owning a cat is the right move for you. There is a risk/reward factor involved in owning a cat if you have a severe medical condition.
Older people have naturally weakened immune systems compared to that of a healthy and younger adult. Additionally, older people have sensitive skin and are more likely to fall victim to cuts and abrasions. Conditions such as cat scratch disease may impact an older adult to a greater extent due to the thin quality of their skin.
The elderly and the young are often the targets of disease. These two groups should not have any cat cleaning responsibilities.
Can Being Allergic to Your Cat Make You Sick?
Roughly 10% of all owners are allergic to their pets to some degree. Although it would seem logical to suggest that fur (and fur flying around the home) would be the reason for the problems, that is not entirely the case. If you are allergic to your cat, the primary issue is the protein that is found in your cat’s urine, saliva, and dried flakes of skin (dander).
When allergies reach a crisis point, some unfortunate decisions have to be made. The painful decision of parting with your cat may be one if you are unable to get your allergies under control.
Some of the most common symptoms of cat allergies include…
- A headache
- Rash on the face and chest
- Itchy and watery eyes
- Stuffy nose
If you are allergic to your cat but do not wish to part with it, here are some tips you can try…
- Keep your distance. There is nothing wrong with loving your cat from afar. You can still have a close relationship with your cat without being mere inches away.
- Make sure the cat is only allowed in some regions of the house. This will prevent your cat from invading your safe areas. If you have allergies, you will need several rooms that are complete with clean air and free of cat scents and fur.
- If you have a closed in outdoor patio, you are encouraged to keep your cat outside as much as possible. The more they are outdoors, the less time they are inside with you and your allergies.
- The daily removal of cat dander can do wonders for your allergies. Cleaning carpets, rugs, and furniture can be beneficial. Getting a vacuum cleaner that can trap even the toughest of allergens is worth the extra money.
- Clean and filtered air traveling through your home is invaluable. If you have many cats, achieving clean air should be of top priority.
How to Reduce Zoonotic Disease Risk Factors
The best way to reduce your risk of zoonotic disease is to avoid bites, scratches, the handling of feces, and the proper cleaning of your cat’s litter box as well as your home. You can also eliminate the bulk of your worries by keeping your cat indoors.
Some tips include…
- Keep your cat indoors
- Routinely vacuum your home
- Clean your cat’s litter box daily
- Do not handle feces without gloves
- Have your cat vaccinated and regularly medicated for flea prevention. If you notice black scabs on your cat, it likely has fleas.
- Be mindful of your health and the well-being of others if you are elderly, have a weakened immune system or young children in your home.
Proper hygiene and detailed cleaning of your cat’s litter box and your home can help you to fight off cat-to-human diseases.
Although contracting a disease from your cat is not a common statistical occurrence, you should always be vigilant. Owning a cat is a significant responsibility, and a portion of that responsibility involves not only protecting your cat but protecting yourself.
Although many people want to own a cat, the truth is that not everyone should. You are doing yourself no favors if you introduce a cat to a living space. Disease can only spread in the right environments. Do all that you can to secure your home, your cat, and yourself.