Can House Cats Transmit Diseases to Humans by Digging in Dirt?

Cats can shed some infectious diseases in their feces.

Cats can shed some infectious diseases in their feces.

If you have a house cat who doesn’t go outside, you probably don’t need to worry too much about her digging in the dirt. But if your house cat is an indoor/outdoor cat, you might. Cats can transmit certain diseases to you from digging in dirt.

Zoonotic Diseases

You can’t get most of the diseases that your cat might get, and the same goes for her: She can’t get most of the diseases that you might get. But some diseases exist that cats can transmit to people and that people can transmit to cats. They’re called zoonotic diseases. Most of the time zoonotic diseases are not too dangerous to you unless you fall into a high-risk group.

Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis, a zoonotic disease, can be transmitted from cats to humans by cats digging in dirt. Cats can also get toxoplasmosis by eating prey they hunted. They can then shed the disease in their feces. If you change your cat’s litter box while infected feces are in it or garden in infected soil and then touch your mouth, you can get toxoplasmosis.

High-Risk Groups

Most healthy adults don’t show any symptoms if they get toxoplasmosis. Pregnant woman, however, fall into a high-risk group for the disease. They can pass toxoplasmosis to their fetuses, which could cause miscarriages or birth defects. Toxoplasmosis can also be fatal to people who are immunocompromised from AIDS or chemotherapy treatment.

Prevention

You can prevent toxoplasmosis by keeping your cat indoors so she doesn’t have access to dirt. If she does go outside, wear gloves when you change her litter box. Also wear gloves if you garden outside because the area could be contaminated with infected cat feces. Wash your hands after changing the litter box and after gardening, even if you wore gloves. Changing the litter box daily is also important. The toxoplasma parasite takes one to five days to become infectious after a cat sheds it in the feces. If you are in a high-risk group, ask someone to change the litter box for you.

Parasitic Infection

An itchy skin disease called cutaneous larva migrans occurs from hookworms, an intestinal parasite that cats can get. Cats can get hookworms from soil contaminated with them. They can then transmit the parasitic infection to you if you touch contaminated feces. This is a good reason to always keep a child’s sandbox covered when not in use. You can help prevent hookworm-related infection by washing your hands before you eat. You can also have your vet check your cat for infection.

 

About the Author

Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.

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