Cat lovers like to share everything with their cats. Sharing with your cat is a great thing – except when it comes to diseases. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be spread from animals to humans (and the other way around). According to the CDC, about 75% of emerging diseases found in humans are zoonotic diseases. Protecting yourself and your cat is more important than ever.
How Zoonotic Diseases Are Spread
There are 3 basic ways that zoonotic diseases are transmitted: through vectors (animals who act as middlemen for the disease), through the air, and through contact with an infected animal. Children, people with impaired immune systems, and pregnant women are the most likely to contract zoonotic diseases. Kittens are at a much higher risk of infection than older cats.
Direct contact with an infected animal is not just petting it’s fur. Most of the time it isn’t the fur, but touching the infected bodily excretions (urine, feces, saliva, milk, etc) that poses the problem. Eating contaminated meat can result in infect as well. Several of the zoonotic diseases that are carried by cats are excreted in the cat’s feces. Cleaning the litter box could put you in contact with infected fecal material. Don’t forget that if you have a zoonotic disease, your cat may be able to catch it from direct contact with you!
Zoonotic Diseases Carried By Cats
Not all diseases are zoonotic and not all zoonotic diseases can infect cats. FIV, Feline Leukemia, and distemper are NOT zoonotic diseases and CAN NOT be spread to humans. Not all human diseases can be spread to cats either. Be sure to visit your doctor or veterinarian if you are concerned that you or your cat may have contracted one of these diseases.
- Toxoplasmosis: A single-celled parasite spread through the feces of infected animals. Most often humans contract toxoplasmosis through consuming undercooked meat. Occasionally a human will get toxoplasmosis from coming into contact with an infected cat’s litter box. Humans with healthy immune systems typically show no symptoms.
- Hookworms: Parasites that are excreted in the feces of infected animals. Humans get hookworms mostly from walking around on soil that has been defecated on by infected animals (the larvae can penetrate human skin).
- Roundworms: Another parasite that is excreted in the feces of infected animals. To contract roundworms, humans accidentally ingest their microscopic eggs on contaminated food.
- Giardia, Salmonellosis (Salmonella Poisoning), and Cryptosporidium (Crypto) : All three of these are single-celled parasites that are excreted in an animal’s feces. These parasites are contracted by drinking or eating something that has been infected. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and severe abdominal pain.
- Rabies: A virus that is spread by contact with an infected animal’s saliva. This is one of the only zoonotic diseases caused by a virus to affect cats. Most cases of this in humans come from animal bites.
- Bartonellosis (Cat Scratch Disease): A bacterial disease that is carried by fleas, transmitted to cats, and then given to humans through cat scratches. Fevers and swollen lymph nodes in the neck are common symptoms in humans.
- Ringworm: A fungal infection of the skin. Contact with any infected areas of skin or with items that have touched the infected areas of skin spreads the disease. Adult cats (especially with long hair) may have no symptoms. Humans will often get a red, itchy, ring-shaped rash from ringworm.
- Q-Fever: A bacterial disease that is spread through an infected animal’s bodily fluids. Often the bacteria goes airborne and is inhaled by unwitting people and animals. Symptoms vary from person to person.
Preventing the Spread of Zoonotic Diseases
Many tips for prevention boil down to “don’t eat poop.” Wash your hands before eating, handling food, or after cleaning a litter box. You may even want to consider wearing gloves for cleaning the litter box. Since a lot of animals will deficate in gardens, wear gloves and shoes when you garden. Wash your fruits and vegetables before eating them. Cook meats and eggs properly before eating them or feeding them to your cats. Keep your cat indoors so that it’s contact with the feces of other animals in kept to a minimum.