If your cat's favorite pastime goes beyond bird-watching to killing and eating, he's liable to pick up diseases from his feathered victims. Zoonotic diseases are those spread from one species to another. To protect local birds along with Fluffy, keep him indoors.
Cats pick up Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite responsible for toxoplasmosis, from eating infected wildlife, including birds. Worse, cats can pass it on to you and other members of your household. It's especially dangerous for pregnant women, one reason why expectant mothers are advised not to change cat litter during their pregnancy or to wear disposable gloves while doing so. While most cats remain asymptomatic even as carriers, some might experience diarrhea or stop eating. Your vet can prescribe antibiotics to treat your cat, but that doesn't eliminate the parasite. After a few weeks, your cat will stop shedding the parasite's eggs. Until that time, he should be kept away from pregnant women, little kids and people with compromised immune systems.
You've probably heard of avian flu, which can also infect people. While cases are rare, cats have been known to contract bird flu from infected prey. There are no recorded instances of cats transmitting bird flu to humans, but that doesn't mean it can't happen in the future, especially as bird influenza viruses can mutate.
Cats can pick up salmonella bacteria from consuming wild birds or rodents. The cats don't usually get sick but can pass the bacteria to people, causing salmonellosis. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever, usually within just a few days of coming into contact with the bacteria. If you suspect you might have salmonellosis, visit your doctor for treatment.
If you've ever seen ricelike particles around your cat's rear end, you're familiar with tapeworm. Cats pick up tapeworm from fleas and eating infected wildlife, including birds. The tapeworm species differs via each means of transmission, but the end result is the same. Your cat is infested with a parasite that feeds on nutrients inside his body. Although over-the-counter tapeworm treatments are available, your best bet is taking your cat to the vet and receiving a prescription anthelmintic, or wormer. After giving your cat the medication, keep him inside. He can easily become reinfected if he consumes another bird.
Besides keeping your cat indoors, you can help prevent transmission of any possible diseases transmitted via bird to your cat to you by practicing good sanitary habits. While you already wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning the litter box, you should also wash your hands after handling your kitty. Make sure your cat is current on all vaccinations, along with bringing in a fecal sample for testing during his annual veterinary checkup. Use effective flea and tick preventives on your cat.
- ASPCA: Toxoplasmosis
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Veterinary Information Brief - Bird Flu - A Danger to Felines?
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Zoonotic Disease - What Can I Catch From My Cat?
- ASPCA: Bird Flu
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Tapeworm Infection in Cats
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Toxoplasmosis in Cats
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.