Most diseases cats get don't transfer to people, and vice versa. But some diseases can, and they are called zoonotic diseases. Just because your cat might be infected with a disease doesn't mean you'll automatically get it. You need to contact a cat's saliva or feces to potentially get one of the zoonotic diseases.
Types of Diseases
Here are the most common types of zoonotic diseases you can get from cat feces:
- Intestinal parasites, such as roundworms and hookworms
Cats can get the salmonella bacteria that they pass through their stool from eating raw meat, wild animals or birds. Keeping your cat indoors and feeding him cooked food can help prevent your cat from getting salmonella.
Cats can acquire roundworms from eating an infected rodent or infected cat feces. They can get hookworms through eating infected stool. Getting a yearly fecal exam for your cat can help control a roundworm or hookworm problem. If worms are discovered, your cat can take an anti-parasite medication.
Cats get toxoplasmosis by eating infected birds, rodents or anything that became contaminated with infected cat feces. Toxoplasmosis can live for months in contaminated sandboxes, soil, gardens, water or anywhere the cat defecated.
How You Can Get a Disease
People can get zoonotic diseases from cat feces by directly contacting the feces in these ways:
- Cleaning litter boxes
- Gardening in feces-filled soil
- Not cleaning infected soil from vegetables before eating them
- Playing in sandboxes (typically applies to children)
Young children are especially at risk because they play outside in the dirt or sandbox and often put their hands in their mouths.
How to Minimize Risk
To minimize risk of contacting cat feces, change and scrub your cat's litter box frequently, wearing disposable gloves when doing so. If you clean the litter box without wearing gloves, wash your hands thoroughly after you complete the task.
You can minimize the risk of getting a disease from cat feces by covering sandboxes when not in use, washing hands before eating and washing vegetables before cooking or eating them.
Doing your best to keep your cat disease free is another way to minimize risk. Keeping your cat indoors and monitoring what she eats helps prevent your cat from obtaining zoonotic diseases.
Warning if You're Pregnant or Have Weakened Immune System
Pregnant cat owners should delegate litter box duties to another family member. Toxoplasmosis can pass to an unborn child. The baby could then develop serious conditions, such as blindness or mental disability.
People with an immature or weakened immune system, such as babies, the elderly, people with AIDS and people undergoing cancer therapy, have an increased risk of getting a zoonotic disease.
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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.