Can Cats Transfer Bacteria or Disease to Humans Through Saliva?

Immune-compromised individuals and children are more susceptible to infection than adults.

Immune-compromised individuals and children are more susceptible to infection than adults.

A friendly, or frustrated, nip on the hand from your cat might not seem like much to worry about, but there's a chance it can lead to serious health problems. Your furry friend has the ability to transmit infectious diseases to humans if not kept healthy.

Zoonotic Diseases

Germs that can be passed between animals and humans are called "zoonotic" and individuals with compromised immune systems are at greater risk of becoming ill.There aren't many zoonotic bacterial diseases you can catch from your cat, but there are a few that produce potentially serious symptoms. Cat-scratch disease is caused by a bacteria found in flea feces. As your cat scratches and grooms himself, the bacteria enter his saliva and become lodged under his claws. Salmonellosis is another zoonotic bacterial illness your kitty can pick up by eating raw meat, including wild prey like rodents and birds, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Rabies

You've probably heard of rabies before. A zoonotic virus, you can contract this fatal disease if saliva from an infected cat gets into your eyes or mouth or enters through an open wound. It can take up to seven months for a cat to show signs of illness, but once symptomatic, the animal usually succumbs to the disease within twelve days, according to Colorado State University Environmental Health Services. Common symptoms include loss of appetite, unprovoked aggressive behavior and nervousness.

Parasites

While parasites aren't pathogens in the strict sense of the word, infestations of these tiny organisms are classified as diseases in the medical field. Your cat can carry roundworm eggs and mono-celled protozoa in his saliva. Your cat can transmit these parasites to you if he shares your food or drink. Roundworms aren't transmitted by bites, but you can become infested if you accidentally ingest the parasite's eggs, according to Animal Planet.

Treatment and Prevention

Regular trips to the veterinarian are the first step towards preventing zoonotic disease. Vaccinate your cat for rabies and put him on a flea and parasite preventative, even if he never goes outside. Don't share food or drink from your dishes or bowls. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling your cat. Clean scratches and bites with warm water and anti-bacterial soap - even if the bite didn't break the skin - and call your physician for advice. Finally, consider making your cat an indoor pet. He has a greater chance of contracting a zoonotic disease if allowed outdoors.

About the Author

Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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