What does zoonotic mean?
Zoonotic is a term used to describe a disease or infection that can be passed from an animal to a human, or vice versa. Zoonotic diseases are also sometimes described as zoonoses. There are lots of different zoonotic diseases worldwide that can potentially spread to humans from animals but thankfully many of these are extremely rare.
What zoonotic diseases can cats get?
There are several zoonotic diseases of cats, most of which are thankfully uncommon. Even so, it's important to be aware of some of the more common transmissible cat diseases and how to recognize them.
Ringworm, also known as dermatophytosis, is one of the most common zoonotic diseases of cats. Controversial to its name, ringworm is not a worm but a fungal skin infection that appears on cats as circular patches of hair loss with flaky skin that sometimes appears sore and red. It is transmitted to humans through contact with an infected cat so you should see your doctor if you have skin lesions that appear after handling a cat that might have ringworm. It is rarely serious but ringworm can be very contagious, both to other animals and to humans. It is usually treated with an anti-fungal medication.
The rabies virus can infect all warm-blooded animals including humans, dogs, and cats. The virus is shed in the saliva of infected animals and is usually transmitted to another animal via a bite wound. There are 3 main stages of cat rabies disease progression and cats will often have dilated pupils throughout all 3 stages.
1. Prodromal stage: The cat's temperament will change noticeably, either from being quiet and shy to active and aggressive or vice versa.
2. Furious stage: Cats become agitated, irritable, and aggressive. This is the most dangerous stage whereby other animals or people are most likely to be bitten and become infected.
3. Paralytic stage: This usually occurs about a week after the first symptoms of rabies are seen. Cats become comatose and ultimately die.
If you suspect you may have had contact with a rabid animal, or have been bitten by an animal that could have rabies, then contact your doctor immediately for further advice. There is a vaccine that can prevent the development of rabies but it must be given as soon as possible after a bite for it to be effective. If left untreated, rabies in humans is fatal, as rabies. It is the law in most states for cats to be vaccinated against rabies and this is usually done from about 3 months of age.
This is a disease caused by infection with a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Cats usually become infected by eating raw or undercooked meat, or prey animals such as rodents. Cats shed the parasite in their feces, which if accidentally eaten, can result in human infection. However, this is extremely rare and humans are much more likely to get toxoplasmosis from eating undercooked meat or eating vegetables covered in contaminated soil than they are from their cats. Studies have shown that owning a cat does not increase your risk of developing toxoplasmosis.
In people with a healthy immune system, toxoplasmosis usually only causes very mild flu-like symptoms or may even go unnoticed. However, certain categories of people are more at risk of developing severe diseases. If a woman becomes infected during pregnancy, she could be at risk of abortion, stillbirth, or severe birth defects.
This is caused by an infection with a parasite called Giardia. One of the main symptoms in both cats and people is diarrhea, however, infection in cats is very common and is often asymptomatic. If stools are affected, they can range in consistency from watery to soft and may have a greenish tinge, mucous, or sometimes even blood.
A human can catch giardia from a cat but there are several other ways in which people can become infected including from infected water sources and other humans. If your cat is diagnosed with giardia, it is extremely important to practice good hygiene and regularly disinfect your cat's environment and food bowls to prevent accidental transmission to humans (or other household pets).
This is another type of parasite that causes diarrhea in both cats and humans. It is shed in cat feces and can be passed to humans via accidental ingestion of the cysts shed in cat feces. It can be treated and good hygiene and regular environmental disinfection are key to preventing human infection.
Salmonella + Campylobacter
One of the most common ways in which your cat can become infected is through eating undercooked or raw meat, or through contact with another animal that does. Cats can often carry infections without showing any symptoms but can shed these bacteria into the environment and humans can become accidentally infected as a result. In humans, salmonella and campylobacter can cause signs typical of food poisoning such as vomiting, diarrhea (often bloody), and/or stomach pain.
Cat scratch disease
This is caused by bacteria that, as the name suggests, can be transmitted to humans via a scratch or bite. Humans that are infected will usually develop swelling at the bitten or scratched area along with swelling of the regional lymph nodes, a fever, joint pain, lethargy, and headaches. Adults with healthy immune systems usually make a full recovery although this can take several months.
Roundworms + hookworms
Some intestinal parasites of cats can also infect humans. Children are most at risk because they are more likely to have contact with contaminated soil where a cat may have defecated. Most of the time, infection with these parasites does not cause illness in people, but the occasionally serious disease may result. Speak to your veterinarian about a regular de-worming protocol for your cat and always wash your hands after any potential contact with cat feces.
Am I at risk of catching a zoonotic disease from my cat?
Most healthy adults have a very low risk of catching a zoonotic disease from their cat. Babies, children, pregnant women, immunocompromised people, and elderly people have increased risk and should take extra precautions depending on their individual circumstances. Ensuring your cat is up to date with his vaccinations and worming treatment, along with practicing good hygiene, all help to significantly lower the risk of catching a zoonotic disease from your cat.
What should I do if I think I've caught a zoonotic disease from my cat?
The most important thing to do is speak to your doctor as soon as possible. Although most zoonotic diseases are treatable, some can potentially be very serious and the earlier treatment is begun, the better. If you think your cat has a potentially zoonotic disease, you should also speak to your veterinarian about the best way to treat him.
Can I get HIV/AIDS from my cat?
FIV in cats is similar to the virus that causes HIV or AIDS in humans; however, people cannot catch HIV or AIDS from cats. There is no evidence that a person has ever been infected with FIV.
Should I give up my cat if I fall into a high-risk category?
Most of the time, practicing good hygiene measures is enough to prevent you from catching a zoonotic disease from your cat. However, it is best to speak to your doctor about your specific circumstances and risks.
How can I lower my risk of catching a zoonotic disease from my cat?
Washing your hands after handling your cat and cleaning the litter box can significantly lower your risk of catching a zoonotic disease. You should also ensure that your cat is up to date with her vaccinations and ensure that she has a regular de-working protocol in place.