Zoonoses: Things Cats Can Spread to Humans


A zoonosis is a disease of animals that can be spread to and infect humans. This article will focus on the diseases that can move between people and cats. There are far more of these types of diseases than the average cat owner might be aware of, and they can be spread to people in a variety of ways.

How Are Zoonoses Transmitted?

The easiest way to organize and discuss zoonoses is to classify them based on how they are transmitted. The predominant methods of transmission are via:

  1. External parasites
  2. Bites, scratches, and discharge exposure
  3. Fecal-oral transmission
  4. Respiratory and eye (ocular) routes
  5. Urinary tract and birth/abortion

Below, we will discuss the main illnesses that are transmitted from cats to people through each of the above routes. These lists may not be exhaustive, but are meant to highlight the most common diseases.

Zoonoses Transmitted by External Parasites

First of all, let's identify the external parasites that can infest our cats and also don't mind crawling on us.

Bite, Scratch, and Discharge Exposure Zoonoses

Some zoonotic diseases of cats are transmitted by animal bites, scratches, or lesions such as draining, oozing wounds.

Zoonoses Transmitted Through Contact with Feces

Now let's look at the enteric (digestive system) zoonoses. Humans may acquire these infections when they have contact with their cats or accidental contact with fecal matter.

Some common intestinal parasites of cats produce disease in man. Parents are often especially concerned about their children's health and safety with new kitten purchases, as many kittens have intestinal "worms."

There are also several bacteria that infect cats and can cause gastrointestinal symptoms in people. The symptoms can include, but are not limited to, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. These bacteria are usually transmitted to humans by accidental exposure to the pet cat's feces. These villains go by the names Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, Yersinia, and Helicobacter.

Eyes and Respiratory System Zoonoses

Urinary and Birth/Abortion Zoonoses

Now That You Want to Put Mr. Schnookums up for Adoption

As you can see, there are many potential zoonotic diseases of the cat. Fortunately, thorough routine physical exams and preventive health care (such as vaccines and de-worming treatments) as well as good hygiene practices can greatly decrease your risk of contracting diseases from your beloved pets. So go ahead and hug your cat today. If you have any concerns or want more information on any of these medical conditions, please consult your family veterinarian.

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