Ugh. If your cat has been outdoors, those hopping insects are most likely fleas. Those fleas are more than a nuisance; they're carriers for some pretty nasty diseases and parasites. Cat fleas, despite their name, infest not only cats, but dogs, rabbits, rodents, raccoons, weasels, goats, foxes, opossums and humans.
Cat Scratch Disease
Cat scratch fever isn't just a song. Cat scratch disease comes from the bacteria Bartonella henselae, which cat fleas carry. The cat fleas carry the disease, but it doesn't usually affect the cat. Instead, the cat becomes a carrier to people where a scratch, lick or bite can cause the disease. Symptoms include fever, headache, blister at the scratch or bite site, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, weight loss, feeling poorly, loss of appetite and sore throat. In people with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly or those infected with HIV or cancer, the disease can be particularly bad.
Fleas can transmit plague to your cat and subsequently to you. Called the black death, plague killed more than a quarter of the population in Europe in the 1300s. Cats are very susceptible to plague; dogs have resistance, but can transmit it to you. Although not necessarily the common carrier of plague, a cat flea simply has to bite an infected rodent and hop onto your cat or dog, who can give it to you. Symptoms of the plague vary depending on the type of plague, either bubonic, septicemic or pneumonic. Symptoms include high fever, chills, headache, swollen lymph nodes, shock, abdominal weakness, bleeding into the skin, blackened skin in extremities, pneumonia, cough, bloody mucus and death.
If your cat hunts rats, she may pick up fleas that carry murine typhus. Those fleas can transmit that disease to you, which can cause a rash, headache, fever and body aches.
If your pet has fleas, you may contract tapeworms from her. While it might seem unlikely, if you accidentally swallow a flea (yes, gross), you will contract tapeworms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people who contract tapeworm infections are children.
- State of Connecticut: Cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis (Bouche))
- Purdue University: Insects and Ticks>Fleas
- King County Public Health: Diseases Carried by Fleas
- DVM 360: Flea-associated illnesses in cats
- Illinois Department of Public Health Prevention and Control: Fleas
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Plague Symptoms
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Parasites - Dipylidium Infection (also known as Dog and Cat Flea Tapeworm): Dipylidium FAQs