Updated February 5, 2024
In times of uncertainty, the best way to fight panic is by educating yourself. With a lot of misinformation floating around lately, you may have wondered: Can cats get sick from humans? Rarely, certain diseases and infections can be passed from humans to cats. Find out what you can do to prevent this from happening.
Reminder: What are zoonotic diseases?
Previously, we wrote about zoonotic diseases, or zoonoses, which are infections or diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans. In that post, we covered which diseases you can catch from your cat. These include rabies, toxoplasmosis, and certain bacterial, parasitic, and fungal infections.
So, can cats get sick from humans?
It turns out that cats getting sick from humans, or reverse zoonoses, is a relatively rare event. Nonetheless, it can happen. An academic review found that in the past three decades, 56 cases in 56 countries documented human-to-animal transmission of disease; this included 38% that were bacterial, 29% viral, 21% parasitic, and 13% fungal or other.
Yes, your cat can catch your cold or flu—but it’s rare.
It’s entirely dependent on the type of virus. For instance, there have been multiple documented cases of humans transmitting H1N1 (aka the swine flu) to their pets, including cats. Signs of the illness in cats are similar to flu symptoms in humans:
- Respiratory disease
If you notice these symptoms in your cat, make an appointment with your veterinarian for an exam. In extreme cases, such as if your cat is having trouble breathing, hasn’t eaten anything in a few days, or is very lethargic, go to an emergency vet clinic.
Currently, health officials say there is a possibility for some animals to become infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19) through close contact with infected humans.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that several dogs and cats (domestic cats and a tiger) in contact with infected humans have tested positive for COVID-19. Ferrets also appear to be susceptible to the infection. There is no evidence that these animals can transmit the disease to humans and play a role in spreading COVID-19. Visit the WHO COVID-19 Q&A page for more information.
Other illnesses that humans can spread to cats
Can cats get sick from humans? While cats rarely catch colds and flu-type illnesses from humans, there are other reverse zoonoses that can be transmitted to cats. (Some of these can also be transmitted from cats to humans.) These diseases include:
- Giardia infection
- Smoking-related diseases (don’t smoke around your pets!)
How to help prevent your cat from getting sick
If you are sick with a cold, the flu, or a fungal, bacterial, or parasitic infection, you should take care to avoid direct contact with your cats and other pets, just as you would with humans. Keep these important tips in mind:
- Make sure your pet is up to date on vaccinations
- Wash your hands frequently
- Don’t let your pets lick your face
- Sanitize affected areas, including bedding, clothing, towels, etc.
- Don’t share your bed with your pets
- Don’t let your pets drink out of toilet bowls
- Separate any ill pet from other pets in the household
Can cats get sick from humans? It may be dismaying to find out that it is possible to transmit your own illness or disease to your cat. But do keep in mind that this is a rare occurrence—and with easy preventative tips, such as washing your hands and keeping your distance while you have symptoms, you should be able to maintain a healthy pet household!
- SARS-CoV-2 in animals
- Reverse Zoonotic Disease Transmission (Zooanthroponosis): A Systematic Review of Seldom-Documented Human Biological Threats to Animals
- World Health Organization
- The Telegraph
- The Spruce Pets