Anyone who’s watched their cat go through a bout of vomiting or a case of the sniffles has probably wondered: Can I get sick from my cat? Is what my cat has contagious?
The answer is yes. The best known and most feared example of a zoonotic disease is rabies. Other common zoonotic diseases in cats include:
- Campylobacter infection
- Cryptosporidium infection
- Cat Scratch Disease
Yikes! Is my cat really that risky?
Now for the good news: although it’s possible to catch a zoonotic disease that’s been bothering your kitty, it’s not likely. That being said, your chance of contracting a zoonotic illness does increase if you have a compromised immune system due to a pre-existing disease or medical condition. Examples include:
- Persons infected with HIV or suffering from AIDS
- Pregnant women
- Patients being treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy
- Elderly people
- People with chronic diseases or congenital immune system deficiency
- People who have received organ/bone marrow transplants
If I’m at a higher risk, should I give my cat away?
No! It just means that you need to be extra cautious around your pet:
- Remember your veterinarian and your physician are your best sources of information regarding zoonotic disease.
- Keep your kitty strictly indoors! This is the best way to prevent your cat from being infected with a zoonotic disease
- Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations regarding vaccination, parasite testing, treatment and prevention.
Since many of the diseases on the above list are transmitted through contact with your cat’s feces, several measures can be taken to ensure that you remain safe, and most involve simple hygiene and common sense. In all instances, you want to avoid coming into direct contact with your cat’s feces. Here are some suggestions to keep yourself safe:
- Keep your cat’s litter box away from the kitchen or other areas where you prepare or store food.
- It might not always be possible, but ask someone who is not at significant risk for zoonotic diseases to take on litter box cleaning duty. Also, have the litter box cleaned daily. The organism that causes Toxoplasmosis, for example, takes 24 hours to become infectious.
- Use disposable litter box liners and change them each time you clean the litter box.
- Don’t dump litter. If you do, you could put yourself at risk of inhaling an infectious agent. Either pour the litter slowly into the trash or wrap the litter box liner tightly and securely.
- It is ideal to clean the litter box thoroughly at least twice per month. Use hot water, and soak the litter box for several minutes. This will kill organisms like Toxoplasmosis.
- Always wear disposable gloves when cleaning the litter box, and toss them after each wash
In addition, it is very important that you monitor your cat regularly for any signs of illness or disease and wash your hands after direct contact with your cat. And remember: if you are worried about the possibility of contracting a zoonotic disease from your pet, your best resource for information is your veterinarian.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
15 Diseases Humans Can Get From Cats
Cats are relatively low maintenance pets. They don’t require near the attention and effort dogs require, and they’re pretty self-sufficient, which makes them a favored pet in many households. Cats require regular feeding and watering, litter box changes and love. However, they’ll dictate when and where they want your attention, and sometimes it’s not that often. You don’t have to walk them or worry they’ll chew on your shoes or use the bathroom in the corner, but you do need to worry that they’ll pass on disease and infection. Read on to find out which diseases humans can get from cats.
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Cat Scratch Disease
This particular disease is one cats are known to pass on to humans. If your cat is infected with the bacteria that cause this disease and he or she scratches or bites you, the disease can pass along to you. The first symptoms are inflamed lymph nodes. This is often accompanied by pain, fever and severe headaches. While it often goes away on its own, it can take months to do so without medical intervention. Additionally, those who suffer from immune disorders will likely not recover from this particular disease without a doctor’s help.
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It’s a bacterial infection that’s cased when cats transmit it through their feces. This happens when a human might pick up cat feces with their hand or accidentally touch it when exchanging old litter for new. The contamination for cats is found in raw meat, animals that carry the bacteria, and that’s it. If a cat passes it onto a human, the result is very similar to salmonella. You will become very sick, not feel well for days and potentially end up hospitalized looking for a diagnosis and cure for your ailments. Be very careful when cleaning litter.
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When it comes to cats and tapeworms, it’s especially important to be very careful around children. Children are more susceptible to tapeworm than adults, which means that you might end up taking your kids to the hospital to find out what’s ailing them. Cats can transmit this disease to kids – and adults as well – by the ingestion of a flea that’s got tapeworms. This seems disgusting and unlikely – after all, your kid wouldn’t eat a flea. However, cats can deposit fleas anywhere, which means they can get into your kids’ cereal, onto a blanket on which they are chewing or a toy that goes into their mouths.
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It’s pretty easy to contract roundworms from cats if you have cats that live outside all the time of part of the time. When a cat uses the bathroom in the yard, he or she covers it up with dirt or soil. When a cat has roundworms, the ground in which his or her feces is found will be infected with the roundworms. This means that your kids can catch the disease playing in the yard. You, too, can contract the disease doing something like gardening or cleaning the yard.
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Ringworm is a fungal infection that can be derived from many places, including your cat. When a cat is diagnosed with ringworm, he or she can pass it along to anyone in your family with relative ease. One way in which ringworm is passed is through feces. It’s something you can get cleaning out the litter box or picking up a minor accident on the floor. It’s an itchy lesion that will go away with over-the-counter cream and medication, but it will come back repeatedly unless you have it treated by a doctor to kill it from the inside out.
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If you touch water that’s contaminated by a cat with this type of infection, it’s going to get to you. This might mean drinking water from a glass your cat saw sitting on the night stand and decided to drink from when you were not looking. It can also be contracted by touching your cat’s water dish to clean it. It’s an infection that’s going to cause diarrhea and upset stomach. It’s certainly not the worst thing you can catch from your cat, but it’s one of the least convenient. Fortunately, it doesn’t last long.
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You’ve heard of this because it’s very dangerous for certain people. If a pregnant woman comes into contact with a cat’s contaminated water, this infection will get into her system and cause her baby undue harm. This is the reason women are not allowed to change or go near litter or cat food and water dishes while they are pregnant. It can also be breathed in from infected litter by a pregnant woman. Otherwise, it will only cause a bit of unsightly and no-fun diarrhea. The infection will go away before too long, but it’s inconvenient and disgusting while it lasts.
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If a cat is infected with rabies and bites a human, a human will then become infected with the disease. This is one very serious disease. If you suspect your cat might suffer from rabies, it’s imperative you have that cat taken to the vet immediately – in a carrier and only hold the cat with gloves. Do not let that cat stay in your home or around your home. Rabies kills humans. There are five human stages, and most of the time it’s too late to save the lives of people who are infected with the virus. Do not take this lightly.
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Outdoor cats are far more susceptible to this type of disease. It’s transmitted from infected ticks to cats and humans. A human can get lyme disease from an infected cat or an infected tick a cat brings into the house. you’ll known you have lyme disease when you have a rash that appears in the shape of a bulls eye. This will become accompanied by changes to your body such as frequent headaches, fever and muscle pain. If left untreated, it can cause serious mental changes that will forever affect your life in a negative light.
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This is transmitted from cats to humans with infected urine. Whether you step in urine your cat leaked onto the floor or you step in it outside or accidentally touch it when cleaning the litter box, it’s dangerous. Cats don’t show symptoms of this disease. This means it’s particular dangerous because you can contract it from their infected urine without even knowing there is anything wrong with the cat. This is a dangerous infection because it causes meningitis and it causes kidney damage and live failure. It’s also known to cause respiratory issues and some other side effects that are potentially deadly.
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It’s not entirely likely that a full grown cat will develop hookworms or pass them along to a human, but it’s more likely that a kitten will do this. These worms are annoying and very dangerous. They are found in the feces of an infected cat and can be passed along by an encounter that’s so minor you don’t even notice it. Some of the effects of hookworms in humans include intestinal bleeding, severe itching and inflammation. You’ll notice the disease because abdominal pain will begin, and it will essentially turn into something that will require hospitalization and medical attention.
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While it’s something found more often in dogs, scabies is not a disease that’s immune to cats. It’s caused by mites that grow beneath the skin. They can be passed along from cat to human in many different ways, even but just bringing them into the house. These mites burrow beneath the skin and cause humans to itch like crazy. They cause scabs, ugly rashes and intense pain. It’s difficult to get rid of scabies and they are likely to occur over and over again if they are not treated and killed effectively the first time around.
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Believe it or not, people are still getting the plague. It’s very, very rare, fortunately, but it does happen. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 10 people are plagued with the plague each year in the United States, and the vast majority of those who are infected are infected through animals. Rats are the biggest carriers, but cats can pass the plague onto their humans via their fleas. If a flea contracts the plague from a rat, it can pass it along to its cat or the flea can attach to the cat and enter your home, spreading the disease to you.
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Q Fever is something that typically only affects farm animals such as sheep and cattle, but it does affect house pets as well. The infection can get into the bloodstream of a cat and end up infecting a person if it goes unnoticed. The way that a cat can pass Q Fever onto humans is through inhalation. If a human is plagued with Q Fever, they will pass it along to their humans through their feces and the particles that are released from said feces and into the air. It’s rare, but it does occur.
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Cats can attract this disease by eating raw or undercooked meats. It shouldn’t be a problem in your household, since cats shouldn’t be eating your dinner in the first place – especially before it’s been cooked. However, some cats are known to contract this illness by sneaking up onto the counter when you’re cooking or by licking meat packaging that’s been thrown in the trash. It can be given to people through contact with the cat, and it can cause serious illness. Most people do recover on their own, but some will require medical attention to recover from this.
Even if your chances of getting giardia from a cat are minimal, it's still important to be extremely cautious whenever dealing with pet fecal matter. Whether you're changing a litter box or gardening in a yard that houses stray felines, take your cleanliness seriously. Wear rubber gloves whenever possible, and always wash your hands with soap and warm water when you're done. Apart from the minimal possibility of giardia, you also may be able to catch roundworms, toxoplasmosis and a host of other diseases from cats, especially if you don't know their health backgrounds.
Ringworm is an infection caused by fungus (not worms) that manifests as small, round, itchy patches on your skin.
Cats are the most common culprits, but dogs can also carry ringworm. You can contract it if you touch an infected pet or an object he or she has come in contact with.
The best way to reduce your risk: Take your pet to the vet if he or she shows signs of ringworm like lesions on the face or paws or a spreading bald patch with a red ring around the outside, Stull says.
Zoonotic illnesses are diseases humans can get from animals. Many infectious diseases can spread from animals to people, and some of these can come from your pet. But before you become too alarmed, know that getting diseases from a pet is pretty uncommon, and that you can prevent most of them with some very simple steps. For example, teach children not to kiss pets or put their hands in their mouths after touching them. Frequent hand washing and regular vet checks are two other great ways to help prevent a wide range of diseases from pets. This includes diseases from dogs, diseases from cats, diseases from birds, or diseases from reptiles.
These are a few of the more common diseases you might get from your pet. People with weak immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, may be more vulnerable than healthy individuals and should take special care.
Caused by a virus and spread through bites, rabies is a disease that affects the nervous system and is generally fatal. Early signs may be fever or headache. This can quickly develop into symptoms of confusion, sleepiness, or agitation. Although rabies can be spread from pets such as a dog or cat, you are more likely to get it from a wild animal.
Reduce the risk of rabies:
- Keep your pet's vaccinations up to date.
- Do what you can to prevent your pet having contact with wild animals.
- Have animal control remove any stray animals. Don't try to care for them yourself.
- Tell your doctor right away if an animal bites you.
Caused by a protozoan organism, toxoplasmosis may cause flu-like symptoms in some people. If you're pregnant or getting ready to become pregnant, it is particularly important to be aware of this disease, as it can infect a fetus and cause a miscarriage or serious birth defect. You are most likely to get toxoplasmosis from eating partially cooked meat or from contact with animal feces while gardening. But you can also get it from contact with contaminated cat feces. It is important to change a cat's litter box daily if it is cleaned within a 24-hour period, it is likely not infective.
Reduce the risk of toxoplasmosis:
- Avoid direct contact with kitty litter or areas that may be contaminated by cat feces.
- Wash hands after contact with litter.
- If you are pregnant or have a weak immune system, have another family member clean and change kitty litter daily while wearing gloves. Also, keep your cat indoors to reduce its risk of infection.
- Don't feed your cat raw or undercooked meat, and avoid it yourself.
Cat scratch disease (bartonellosis)
This bacterial disease is spread from cat to cat by fleas, but people usually become infected from a cat scratch or bite. If you develop cat scratch disease, you may develop a mild infection and flu-like symptoms or more serious problems such as damage to the valves in the heart.
Reduce the risk of cat scratch disease:
- Do what you can to control fleas on your pets and in your home.
- Avoid play that might lead to cat scratches or bites.
- Don't allow your cat to lick any open wounds you have.
- Wash cat bites and scratches right away with soap and water.
- See your doctor if you develop an infection at the site of a cat bite or scratch.
Hookworm and roundworm
These are intestinal parasites routinely found in dogs and cats, particularly kittens and puppies. The worms’ eggs or larvae are passed from pets through stool. You can pick them up through your skin from walking barefoot or playing outside. A young child might also accidentally eat the worm eggs.
Hookworm infection can cause painful and itchy skin infections or abdominal symptoms. Roundworm infections may cause no symptoms but can cause nerve or eye damage in some people.
Reduce the risk of roundworms and hookworms:
- Don't walk barefoot or garden in areas with bare hands.
- Teach children to always wash their hands after touching a dog or cat
- Have your kittens and puppies dewormed by the vet.
Dogs and cats can pick up tapeworm by eating a flea that has been infected. Most human tapeworm infections arise from ingestion of contaminated meats, but children may pick up tapeworm by accidentally swallowing a flea infected with tapeworm larvae. Tapeworm segments may show up in stool or around the anal area on a pet or human. These segments look a little like grains of rice.
- Control fleas on your pet and in the environment.
- Seek treatment for your pet right away if you see signs of tapeworms.
- Clean up your pet's feces in the yard and public areas right away.
- Don't allow your child to play in areas that might be contaminated.
- Have your child wash hands after playing with pets and being outdoors.
Not really a worm, ringworm is caused by a fungal infection within the top layer of the skin. It is very contagious and dogs, cats, horses, other animals, and humans can pass ringworm to humans. You can also get it from touching surfaces that an infected pet or person has touched. On skin, ringworm causes a ring-shaped, reddish rash that may be dry and scaly or wet and crusty. It may also be itchy.
- On the scalp, it can cause temporary baldness.
- On nails, it can cause thickening, discoloring, and brittle texture.
- On feet, (called athlete's foot), it can cause scaliness and cracking, especially between the toes.
Ringworm is more likely if you have been sweating a lot or had a minor injury. Although it's difficult to prevent, ringworm responds well to self-care and treatment.
Reduce the risk of ringworm. If a pet or family member has ringworm:
- Make sure they get treated. For family members, apply an over-the-counter antifungal.
- Consult your doctor if the lesions are extensive or do not improve rapidly with topical treatment.
- Consult your veterinarian if skin lesions are found on your pets.
- Daily wash sheets and pajamas of the infected family member.
- Avoid direct contact until the ringworm is gone. And, keep animals off your bed.
- Keep your skin clean and dry.
Caused by bacteria, salmonella infection most often results from eating contaminated food. But pets can spread it, too, through their feces. Reptiles such as lizards, snakes, and turtles are likely sources of this infection, as well as chicks and ducklings. Dogs, cats, birds, and horses may also carry it. If you become infected, signs and symptoms may include stomach pain, diarrhea, and fever.
Reduce the risk of salmonella:
- Always wash hands with soap and water after contact with animal feces or with reptiles and the surfaces they've touched.
- If you have a weak immune system, avoid any contact with reptiles, chicks, and ducklings.
Psittacosis (Parrot Fever)
This is a bacterial infection that you can get from breathing in dried feces or respiratory tract fluids from infected birds. This includes parrots, parakeets, macaws, and cockatiels. It may be hard to detect this infection in birds because they often don't have symptoms. This makes prevention more difficult.
Reduce the risk of parrot fever:
- Avoid purchasing a bird with signs of infection. This includes eye or nasal discharge, diarrhea, or low body weight.
- Change papers daily and regularly disinfect the bird's cage, but in a well-ventilated area. Diluted bleach (for example, ½ cup of bleach in a gallon of water) should do the trick. Or, ask your vet for a safe, effective antibacterial to use.
- If you suspect your bird may be sick, see a vet right away.
Call your doctor if you develop flu-like or respiratory symptoms after having a sick bird. If you come down with psittacosis, your experience may range from no symptoms at all to severe respiratory symptoms.
Your pet can't transmit Lyme disease to you directly. But you can get it from ticks your dog or outdoor cat picks up. Ticks carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, which may cause no obvious symptoms. Or, it may cause:
- A bull's-eyerash at the site of tick attachment
- Muscle or joint pain
Without treatment, Lyme disease can become a chronic condition over time, causing nerve and heart inflammation, mental changes, and pain.
Reduce the risk of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses:
- Avoid tick-infested areas, especially in spring and summer.
- Use veterinary-approved tick preventives on your pet and apply insect repellant with DEET on yourself when in areas with ticks.
- Wear light clothing and cover legs and arms when hiking.
- Remove ticks as soon as you can to help reduce chances of infection.
- Dispose of ticks by wrapping them in a paper towel and placing this in a plastic bag. Never crush the tick as this can release dangerous bacteria into the air.