Can you get sick from a cat? Although the benefits of having a furry friend far outweigh the risks, there are certain diseases that can pass from your cat to you—also known as zoonotic diseases. Learn how you can protect yourself and your cat from the most common zoonotic diseases.
What are zoonotic diseases?
Zoonoses refers to infections or diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 61% of all human diseases are zoonotic in origin; furthermore, 75% of new diseases discovered in the last decade are zoonotic.
Today, zoonotic diseases are less of an issue in developed countries like the U.S., yet remain a major concern in many developing countries.
Which zoonoses can you get from a cat?
Let’s reiterate the fact that it is very unlikely that you will ever get sick from your cat—particularly if you keep your cat indoors. That being said, you should be aware of which feline infections and diseases might be contagious to you.
Let’s start with the worst: Rabies is nearly always fatal in both humans and animals. Litter-Robot resident veterinarian Dr. Justine Lee explains that “any mammal can be exposed to rabies through exposure to saliva (via wounds or bite wounds) of a rabid animal.” Signs of rabies typically occur within 3-12 weeks of bite exposure. And once symptoms develop, death is typically seen within 1-10 days. Learn more about rabies and why your indoor cat needs a rabies vaccine.
Prevent rabies: Keep rabies vaccinations current and your cat indoors, if possible.
Cats can contract the parasite Toxoplasma gondii from eating raw meat (such as outdoor prey) or from contaminated soil. Once infected, a cat can shed the parasite in its feces for up to two weeks. Although most healthy people won’t show symptoms, women who are infected just prior to or during pregnancy can pass the parasite on to their unborn children—to dire consequences. Learn more about toxoplasmosis and pregnancy.
Prevent toxoplasmosis: Wash your hands after cleaning the litter box. Wear gloves while gardening. Avoid cleaning the litter box if you are pregnant or immunocompromised. Feed your cat cooked, commercially processed food.
Cat scratch disease
Cat scratch disease is an infection caused by a bacterium called Bartonella henselae. It spreads when an infected feline scratches or bites a person hard enough to break the skin, or licks a person’s open wound. Typically, “cat scratch fever” causes a mild reaction in people, including swelling, lesions, or pus at the site of the bite or scratch. Rarely, the disease can cause serious complications. Learn more about cat scratch disease.
Prevent cat scratch disease: Wash cat bites and scratch wounds immediately with soap and running warm water. Consider adopting an older cat, as kittens less than one year old are more likely to carry the disease.
Salmonella and campylobacter
It’s possible to contract salmonella or campylobacter poisoning through the stool of infected cats. Felines contract these bacteria groups from feeding on raw meat and wildlife. Usually salmonella or campylobacter poisoning resolves on its own, but some people require medical attention to treat diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration.
Prevent salmonella and campylobacter poisoning: Wash your hands after cleaning the litter box. Wear gloves while gardening. Feed your cat cooked, commercially processed food.
Another infection passed through cat feces is caused by the microscopic parasite Giardia. Cats may become infected through contaminated water sources or uncooked food items. People who are infected may experience diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and dehydration. Prescription drugs usually clear up the infection in no time.
Prevent Giardia infections: Wash your hands after cleaning the litter box. Wear gloves while gardening. Feed your cat cooked, commercially processed food.
Ringworm is a common fungal disease of the environment. Cats can carry it on their fur and shed it to humans they come in contact with. Ringworm often presents in people as red, hairless, dried circular patches on the skin. Topical medication like Tinactin usually clears up the infection. Learn more about ringworm in cats.
Prevent ringworm: Keep your cat indoors, if possible.
Roundworms and hookworms
Intestinal parasites including roundworms and hookworms can be transmitted from cats to humans via cat feces. Children may be more susceptible due to a higher likelihood of coming into contact with contaminated cat feces while playing in soil. Most people who become infected don’t show signs of illness. Learn more about worms in cats.
Prevent roundworms and hookworms: Wash your hands after cleaning the litter box. Wear gloves while gardening. Keep your cat indoors, if possible.
Fleas and scabies
External parasitic pests like fleas and scabies (mange) can be passed between cats and humans. Flea bites cause itching and inflammation, while scabies burrow into the skin and cause itchy, raised lesions. Treating your pet is most important for ridding the household of these pests. Learn more about flea treatment for cats, as well as mange in cats.
Prevent fleas and scabies: Talk to your veterinarian about preventative flea treatment. Keep your cat indoors, if possible.
Preventing the spread of zoonotic diseases when you have a cat
It’s especially important to prevent the spread of zoonoses if members of the household have immature or weakened immune systems, including:
- People with AIDS
- The elderly
- People undergoing chemotherapy treatment or receiving other drugs that may suppress their immune systems
Try a self-cleaning litter box
Can you get sick from a cat? Well, a disproportionate amount of zoonotic diseases occur after handling the feces of an infected cat. With a self-cleaning litter box like the Litter-Robot, you’ll never have to scoop litter again. Cat feces and urine clumps are automatically cycled into the Litter-Robot waste drawer—all you need to do is empty the drawer when it’s full. No unpleasant contact required!