You’re sitting at home with a cold. You’ve got your tea, tissues, and cough syrup. You are snuggled on the couch with Mr. Socks, streaming Puss in Boots and Homeward Bound. Suddenly you let loose with a sneeze and realize Mr. Socks sneezed at the same time! Wait. Does he have a cold too? Did you give him your cold or did he give you his cold? Is that even possible?
Luckily the common cold is not transferable between cats and humans. In fact, you are more likely to contract something from the person in the next cubicle or from your server at your favorite restaurant, than from your cat. And the most contagious cat diseases do not affect humans. However, some diseases do cross the species barrier. This is your quick reference guide.
A zoonotic disease is one that can be passed from animals to humans. Reverses zoonosis, is the transmission of diseases from humans to animals and is called anthroponosis. Examples of famous zoonotic diseases are:
- HIV, which originated in monkeys.
- SARS, which originated in China. Before jumping the human species barrier, it’s variations were detected in monkeys; live, caged animals kept as exotic game food; and in ferrets and goats kept in live animal markets.
- Many strains of swine flu, avian flu, and other influenzas are zoonotic.
- Ebola originated in primates.
What about cat-human diseases? There are several parasites, bacterial, fungal, and viral infections that can cross from cats to humans, and humans to cats. The most important thing to remember is that concern about these diseases does not warrant re-homing our kitties. Using simple, everyday common sense practices, such as washing our hands after cleaning the litter box, can nearly eliminate all risk. Avoiding the pests that can infect humans and cats is the best way to avoid the worst diseases. That means taking steps to repel pests like fleas, ticks, and mosquitos.
EcoBug™ insect-repelling spray is one of the best on the market because it protects against the trifecta - fleas, ticks, and mosquitos. And it goes further to help protect against other biting insects and pests, like mites. Plus, it’s a solution containing natural ingredients. Unlike commercial products, it’s formulated to be tough on pests, but gentle on our fur-babies.
Here’s your round-up of some of the important zoonotic diseases in the U.S.
Cat Scratch Fever. Also called bartonella, cat scratch fever is a bacterial infection that causes a fever and swollen glands. Infected cat guardians will also get headaches. Cats can become infected from fleas or ticks while grooming themselves or other cats. Humans and cats can infect each other. Cat guardians can be infected by cat saliva, such as being bit by an infected cat. And we can transmit the fever to our feline friends if we let our cat groom us and they lick an open wound. This fever will usually resolve on its own, but don't put off a vet visit if a fever lasts more than a few days. It’s easily treated with antibiotics.
Salmonella lives in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals, including birds. Humans are usually infected by eating foods contaminated with animal feces or not washing their hands well enough after cleaning their cat’s litter box. Cats typically get salmonella by eating raw meat, such as wild birds or rodents. Some guardians may choose to make their cat an indoor cat, but for those cats who are already accustomed to living independently and having a free-range, guardians should just watch for diarrhea and other signs of digestive distress. This infection typically resolves on its own, but in some rare cases, it can affect organs other than the digestive tract, which can be more serious.
Roundworm. This one is a common cat parasite. As guardians, we’ll be able to clearly see roundworms in their feces when we clean the litter box. If afflicted, they may suffer from weight loss, become potbellied, and have dull hair. If we become infected, the worm can migrate to the brain, eye, liver, or lung, which can cause permanent damage. Early symptoms may be non-existent, but detectable symptoms will most likely include abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. The treatment for cats and humans are anti-parasitic drugs. The best way for cat guardians to avoid infection is to use common sense and be sure to wash our hands after cleaning the litter box.
Toxoplasmosis. This is also a common parasitic disease limited to outdoor cats because they contract it from eating infected raw meat. Infection can also occur if cats or guardians drink unpasteurized milk. Again, contact with cat feces is how this parasite infects humans, so common sense hand washing after cleaning the litter box is important. Pregnant women with compromised immune systems are at a heightened risk, so wearing gloves while scooping the litter box can also help to reduce risk. Treatment for cats includes antibiotics, but humans require a drug combination.
These are just a few of the top bacterial and parasitic infections that can affect cats and humans. There are others, including fungal and viral infections. Watch for those in part two of this series. And keep in mind, the best way to minimize and eliminate risk is not to rehome our cats, but to practice common sense hygiene and manage exposure to pests known for spreading diseases.