A zoonotic disease is an infection or disease that can be transmitted from an animal to a human being. All domestic animals including dogs, cats, birds, horses, cows, sheep, goats, and rabbits can potentially spread diseases to people, but rarely does this actually occur.

If pet owners exercise basic hygiene principles, especially hand washing, most of these potential diseases can be avoided.

Current evidence supports the fact that pet cats pose a minimal zoonotic risk to their human companions. Cats kept indoors are exposed to fewer diseases that can be transmitted to humans. The risk may be slightly higher in people with a compromised immune system from disease or medications.

Here are some of the different zoonotic diseases that can affect your kitty:  

1. Toxoplasmosis

Pregnant mothers should be careful when handling your kitty’s poop as toxoplasmosis is caused by a protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, and transmitted via faeces. When mothers contract the disease during pregnancy, it can potentially affect their infants in the future, causing mental disability or blindness. It also affects people with a weakened immune system.

Your kitty can contract this disease by consuming an infected rodent, bird or any contaminated faeces from an infected animal. For up to two to three weeks, your infected cat can shed the parasite together with its faeces.

Even though it takes one to five days for the parasite to mature and then cause an infection, it can persist for many months and continue to contaminate the environment.

When your feline is infected, they will show signs of lethargy, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, respiratory problems, weight loss, jaundice and loss of appetite.

A pregnant woman and individuals with suppressed immune systems should not handle the litter box, but if needed, wear gloves when doing so and wash hands thoroughly after. Your kitty’s litter box should also be changed daily to prevent the parasite from living in the environment for a longer time.

In addition, avoid gardening or having contact with soil because they may contain cat’s faeces. However, if exposed to it, hands should be thoroughly washed.

2. Ringworms

You might think worms cause this disease, but in fact, it is caused by a group of fungi. In cats, ringworms are very mild, sometimes not noticeable, but the area might have slight hair loss and appear dry.

However, ringworms are transmitted to humans through direct contact with your feline’s skin or/and fur or from the contaminated environment. They will drop these fungal spores in the environment, and that can cause an infection for many months. In humans, ringworms can appear anywhere on the body as itchy round red lesions.

Although not life-threatening and treatable with antifungal medication, your infected feline should be kept in a room and contact with other cats or people should be minimised, while the room should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

3.  Salmonellosis

Although it’s widely known that salmonella poisoning is caused by contaminated food, you might not know that cats could also be a carrier of this disease. When cats are infected, their stools contain the dangerous bacteria and there will be mucus in their stools.

Symptoms such as lethargy, fever, dehydration, weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting and a fast heart rate will arise.  

Salmonella is an infection that affects the intestinal tract and felines that feed on raw meat or wild animals are more likely to contract it. Paw-rents should keep their kitty indoors and feed them cooked or commercial cat food. Also, wear gloves when handling the litter box and wash your hands thoroughly after.

4.  Cat Scratch Disease (CSD)

Cat scratch fever, also known as cat scratch disease (CSD), is a bacterial infection that is transmitted from cats to humans through a scratch. It can also be transmitted through bites, faeces or when a feline licks an open wound.

The bacteria that causes CSD, Bartonella Henselae, can cause lymph nodes around the area to swell and hurt. At times, there might be pus and other symptoms such as headaches, fever, poor appetite, and exhaustion.  

Although the disease will resolve on its own in healthy adults, a person with a weakened immune system may have more serious infections that may require a course of antibiotics.

If you’ve been scratched or bitten by a cat, wash the area thoroughly with soap and take note of symptoms such as a fever, chills, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat in the next 10 days.

You will notice a papule (a small bump) in the affected region if you are suffering from this bacterial infection.

For more information, visit: vcahospital

* This article was updated on 14 Jul 2020. It first appeared in Pets Magazine, 15 Sept 2017.