Okay, so we know for a fact that nothing beats getting up close and cuddly with your pawtner in crime, but did you know that some diseases can be passed from cats to humans? Yep, unfortunately, your kitty can’t only make you love-sick, it can also send some nasty lurgies your way if you’re not careful.
Fortunately, a lot of diseases from cats, such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) or feline AIDS, hookworm, distemper or colds and flu can’t be transmitted from pets to people. But there are, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some zoonotic diseases you need to be aware of.
Let’s take a look at these in more detail, shall we?
10 Diseases Cat Owners Need to Know About
1. You can get Giardiasis from your cat
Giardiasis, pronounced jee-are-dye-uh-sis, is one the most common parasites found in a human’s intestines, and it can also be transferred from animal to animal and animal to humans usually through infected poop or water. Unfortunately, it is incredibly contagious and can spread quickly between people.
Signs that your cat has giardiasis include:
- Soft or frothy diarrhoea
- Shiny diarrhoea
- Smelly diarrhoea
In humans, symptoms of this parasite can include:
- Shiny and smelly diarrhoea
- Abdominal pain
- Lots of gas
- Swollen belly
- Loss of appetite
In some instances, the disease can become chronic and cause:
- Abdominal pain just above the belly
- Gas or flatulence
- Weight loss
- Mushy poop or diarrhoea
- Extreme lethargy
Although this condition is not life-threatening for healthy teens and adults, babies and toddlers, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are at risk. Consult your GP immediately if the symptoms persist for more than two days as it can lead to weight loss and dehydration.
2. Cats can cause Toxocariasis
If your pet hasn’t been dewormed, it can spread a disease known as Toxocariasis or roundworm onto you and your family. Dogs carry the worm Toxocara canis, while cats carry Toxocara cati, which is passed through their poop. Roundworm eggs can live for an extended period in the soil. Younger children are more likely to get it from digging around in contaminated soil, in playgrounds, parks and gardens and then putting their hands in their mouth.
Although this infection may be asymptomatic, the most common symptoms associated with this infection include:
- Abdominal pain
- Enlarged liver
- Wheezing or coughing
- Enlarged or swollen lymph nodes
- Loss of appetite
- A rash
- Blurred vision, red or crossed eyes
The symptoms will differ depending on which part of the body has become infected. You must keep your family safe from this disease by doing the following:
- Deworming your kittens
- Washing hands after playing with your cat or other animals
- Teaching children not to put their hands in their mouth, especially after playing in the dirt
- Teaching children not to eat soil
- Keeping pets away from your children’s sandbox
- Not allowing your children near the cat’s litter box
- Washing vegetables and fruit
3. Toxoplasmosis is a zoonotic disease
Toxoplasmosis gondii or Toxo for short is an infection that is passed from cats to people through direct contact with their poop. But, as the Disease Control and Prevention Center reports, you can also contract the disease from eating raw or undercooked meat.
This potentially dangerous infection is spread through the following ways:
- Coming into contact with cat poop in soil
- Direct contact with cat poop in litter trays
- Eating raw meat such as pork, venison or lamb
- Drinking contaminated water or unpasteurized milk
- Babies can be born with it
While Toxo has no serious complications for healthy people, it is particularly dangerous for people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women. Pregnant women mustn’t clean out cats’ litter boxes as this disease can be passed onto their unborn baby.
For the most part, people show no signs of infection, but in very rare cases it can cause serious problems, including brain abscesses and blindness.
4. Be careful of Campylobacter
Campylobacter or kam-pih-loh-bak-tur bacteria is found in the intestines of wild and domestic animals, including your kitty. This disease is spread by coming into contact with cat poop, contaminated food and water and unpasteurized milk.
Like many of the other zoonotic diseases, it affects the lining of the small and large intestines, and in younger children or those with a compromised immune system, it can also cause bacteremia. Once infected, people can pass Campylobacter onto others, which is why you need to be particularly careful.
To prevent the spread of this nasty disease, we suggest washing your hands while working with raw meat. It’s also important to disinfect countertops and wash cutting boards and cutlery with hot water and soap and always clean fruit and vegetables before eating them.
Because Campylobacter is also passed on through direct contact with poop, it’s crucial that you use a poop scoop or wear gloves when cleaning out litter trays and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
5. Cat Scratch Disease is a thing
Cat scratch disease or cat scratch fever is a real thing that is passed from cats to humans when an infected kitty licks, bites and scratches an open wound. The bacteria, Bartonella henselae, which causes this condition, is found in the saliva of infected cats. However, there are no symptoms, and it doesn’t make the cat ill. CSD is spread by fleas between cats, which is why you need to treat your pet for these pests regularly.
Common symptoms include:
- Swelling or redness around the area
- Loss of appetite
Thankfully CSD isn’t common with indoor cats, however, to avoid infection it’s best not to touch outdoor cats, including strays and ferals.
6. Watch out for ringworm
Ringworm is highly contagious and can quickly spread from your cat to you. This infection causes hair loss, and can also affect the skin and nails. Symptoms include flaky patches and lesions on the ears, arms and head.
While it sounds absolutely awful, treatment for ringworm is easy. Your GP may prescribe a spray, cream or powder to kill off the infection. However, in more severe cases, medication may take up to a month to work, and your doctor will suggest a stronger medication.
You can prevent the spread of ringworm by taking the following precautions:
- Use clean cloths, towels and clothes
- Wash your hands right away after playing with pets or coming into contact with an infected person
- Bath or shower daily
7. Pass the salmonella
Although you can get salmonella from eating uncooked or contaminated food, it is also passed from cats to humans through their poop. We always recommend that pet owners wear gloves when cleaning out litter trays or working in the garden to avoid infection from salmonella bacteria. And always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after you’ve done either activity.
A person will show signs of infection with:
- Vomiting and nausea
- Abdominal cramps
Less severe cases of this infection usually clear up without needing medical attention. However, if the symptoms persist and it’s left untreated, babies and the elderly are at risk of becoming dehydrated.
8. Cats may pass scabies to humans
Another less common disease cats can pass onto humans is feline sarcoptic mange or scabies. The menacing mites responsible for this condition are called Sarcoptes scabei and cause excessive itching and scratching. When people come into contact with an infected cat, symptoms are similar, including:
- Itching and scratching
- Scabbed skin
- Irritability and loss of appetite in younger children
Areas that commonly become infected on the body are as follows:
- Hands and feet
- The groin area
- In younger children on the head and scalp
- Folds under the arm and inner wrist
Veterinary care is needed to get rid of the problem in cats. And humans will also need medical attention. Younger children are usually prescribed a topical ointment, while an oral treatment, or pill, may be given to older children and adults.
9. Beware of tapeworm
If your cat has fleas, there’s a pretty good chance it also has tapeworm too. And sadly, it can be passed from cats to people. The good news is that an infection from these looks and sounds a lot scarier than it actually is, and treatment is relatively straightforward.
Signs that you have an infected cat will include bits of the worm breaking off from their bottoms and even worms in their poop. As soon as you see this, and you will, we recommend deworming your cat, and while you’re at it, treating your family as well.
Common symptoms that you or your children have tapeworms (or any other worms for that matter) include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Worms in stools
While an infection of this nature in itself isn’t life-threatening, leaving it untreated can see the tapeworm grow big enough to block specific organs, such as the appendix. This can lead to appendicitis, which is a much more serious issue.
10. Rabies is rare but…
It’s uncommon to catch rabies from a cat that has had all its vaccinations. However, stray or feral cats can carry this dreadful disease. This is, without a doubt, one of the most severe illnesses that can be passed from animals to humans, which is why you must stay up to date with your pet’s vaccines.
If you or a family member has been bitten by a stray or feral cat, you need to get medical treatment as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, if left untreated rabies can be fatal.
Signs that a cat has rabies include:
- Loss of appetite
While indoor cats are at a lower risk of contracting this awful disease, you need to make sure its vaccinations are up-to-date. Outdoor cats that live in areas with loads of wild animals, such as bats and foxes, are at much higher risk. In the United States, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 250 cats with rabies are reported annually.
Although this is one of the worst zoonotic diseases around, there are preventative measures you can take to keep your pet and your family safe.
That’s quite a list, isn’t it? But it’s not all doom and gloom. You can protect your cat, and your family from these diseases with vaccinations, washing your hands before and after handling pets, and not coming into direct contact with your cat’s poop.