Cats Can Transmit These Diseases to Humans

Diseases that a cat can transmit to humans are called feline zoonoses. Read here which diseases these are and how a healthy and safe coexistence of cat and human works.

Fortunately, disease transmission between cats and humans is rare. Nevertheless, cat owners should know about feline zoonoses. Feline zoonoses include certain viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Healthy people with a functioning immune system rarely contract zoonoses. However, the risk of infection and illness is increased in pregnant women, small children, or people with a weakened immune system.

Caution: In theory, humans can also infect cats with diseases, but this is extremely rare. Simple hygiene rules, such as washing your hands before preparing the food, are usually sufficient to protect the cat from human pathogens. In addition, if the cat is regularly vaccinated, treated against parasites, and fed appropriately, its immune system will be strong enough to deal with human germs.

Pathways of Disease Transmission Between Humans and Cats

Zoonotic pathogens are transmitted indirectly more frequently than through direct contact with the cat, for example when humans come into contact with garden soil or objects containing the pathogen. Parasites such as fleas or ticks affect cats and humans alike so that mutual transmission can take place. The parasites can also be carriers of diseases. Other pathogens are mainly transmitted via bites and scratches from cats.

The Most Common Zoonoses Caused By Cats

The most important zoonoses caused by cats include:

  • toxoplasmosis
  • gastrointestinal infections
  • wound infections
  • cat scratch disease
  • rabies
  • skin fungal diseases

Transmissible Feline Disease: Toxoplasmosis

The pathogen of toxoplasmosis is dangerous for the unborn child in the womb and for people with a weakened immune system. If a pregnant woman is infected with toxoplasmosis for the first time during pregnancy, the pathogen can cause miscarriages or disabilities in the child. If the young mother has had toxoplasmosis long before the pregnancy, she has antibodies against toxoplasmosis, which also protect the unborn child. A blood test can be used to determine whether this protection exists.

Feline Transmissible Disease: Gastrointestinal Infections

These include salmonella, parasites such as giardia, or worms. The consequences of these infections range from harmless diarrhea to severe gastrointestinal diseases with high fever, severe pain, and circulatory problems. Roundworm and hookworm larvae can also infect internal organs and the eyes, causing serious damage there.

Feline Transmissible Disease: Wound Infections

There are numerous pathogens in the cat’s mouth and on its claws that can cause wound infections and even blood poisoning. While you can clean superficial scratches yourself with wound disinfectants, you should always get medical attention for deep bites and scratches – even if they hardly bleed!

Transmissible Cat Disease: Cat Scratch Disease

Cat scratch disease is caused by Bartonella, which is transmitted through cat bites or scratches, but also through flea or tick bites. In most cases, the immune system renders Bartonella harmless before symptoms appear. Rarely, the infection leads to inflammation of the lymph nodes, which is accompanied by fever and pain.

Transmissible Feline Disease: Rabies

The rabies virus is mainly found in cats’ saliva and enters the human body through small wounds (scratches or bites). If rabies infection is suspected, a person can be saved if treatment is started well before the first symptoms appear. People who have contracted the disease die from it.

Transmissible Cat Disease: Skin Fungi

Skin fungi in cats form spores that spread everywhere. In humans, the skin fungi often cause ring-shaped, scaly and itchy skin inflammation. If skin fungi occur in humans, all animals in the household should be examined and treated if necessary.

9 Tips on How to Avoid the Risk of Infection With Zoonoses

Very simple rules of hygiene usually help to protect humans and animals from zoonoses. The Society of American Feline Doctors (AAFP) recommends the following actions:

  1. Treat your cat year-round with a veterinarian-recommended flea treatment. For free-roaming cats, you should use a remedy that also works against ticks
  2. All waste should be removed from the litter box at least once a day. The litter box should be cleaned thoroughly with hot water and soap at least once a month. If vulnerable people live in the household, cleaning the litter box several times a week is advisable.
  3. Wash your hands after each contact with the litter box. Thorough handwashing is also recommended after each petting and contact with the cat’s paraphernalia (bowls, toys, bedding, etc.).
  4. Use gloves when gardening and wash your hands afterward.
  5. Only feed your cat well-cooked meat or ready-made food.
  6. Keep your cat’s claws short by providing suitable scratching spots or training them to clip their claws.
  7. If you get scratched or bitten by a cat, see a doctor.
  8. You should avoid direct contact with stray cats. If a stray cat needs help, it’s best to let your local cat or animal welfare organization know.
  9. If you adopt a new cat, the animal should be examined by a veterinarian. Until the vet gives the go-ahead, the new one should be kept separate from other animals or sensitive people.
Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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