Can I Get Sick From My Cat?
It’s so sad to see your cat sick, and when he is, you probably spend a lot of time trying to make him feel better. But have you ever wondered if your cat can give his illness to you if you’re spending so much time around him when he’s sick?
It depends on what the sickness is, but in general yes, you can catch illnesses from your cat. If you follow some steps to prevent both you and your cat from getting sick, though, the risk to you is very low.
The Dodo spoke to Dr. Erica Irish, a veterinarian at All Care Animal Hospital, to find out what you need to know about catching diseases from your cat and how to prevent it.
Zoonotic diseases from cats
Illnesses that can transfer between cats (or other animals) to humans are called zoonotic diseases — and there are a number of zoonotic illnesses you can catch from your cat.
“Intestinal parasites, like roundworms and hookworms, can be transmitted to other pets and to people,” Dr. Irish told The Dodo. “Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite that can be transmitted via the litter box. Rabies virus, which is a lethal illness, is transmitted from the bite of an unvaccinated animal (if previously exposed to the virus). Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease, can be passed through exposure to urine.”
You can also catch something called cat-scratch fever (sometimes called cat-scratch disease) from a healthy cat. It can happen if a cat bites or scratches you enough to break the skin (or licks an open wound of yours), which allows bacteria to jump from the cat to you, causing an infection. Symptoms can include signs of infection around the wound, fever and swollen lymph nodes.
While there are a number of diseases that can be transferred from cats to people, here’s a list of common illnesses that you can catch from your cat:
- Roundworm — an intestinal parasite
- Hookworm — an intestinal parasite
- Ringworm — a fungal infection of the skin
- Toxoplasmosis — an infection from a parasite found in cat feces
- Rabies — a virus spread through the saliva of infected animals
- Leptospirosis — a bacterial disease spread through the urine of infected animals
- Cat-scratch fever — an infection caused by bacteria when bitten or scratched by a cat
- Salmonella — an infection of salmonella bacteria caused by contaminated food
- Giardia — an intestinal infection that can cause stomach-bug-like symptoms
- Cryptosporidiosis — an infection caused by a parasite when cats ingest contaminated food, water or feces
- Campylobacteriosis — an intestinal infection that can cause stomach-bug-like symptoms
- Pasteurella multocida — a bacteria that causes infection from a cat bite or scratch
- Scabies — a contagious, itchy skin condition caused by mites
Many of these illnesses can act the same way in cats and humans, so symptoms will be similar in both people and cats.
“Intestinal parasites can cause gastrointestinal signs in both cats and humans,” Dr. Irish said. “Other illnesses can cause general malaise, which can make cats and their people seem ‘off’ or feel unwell.”
But for other illnesses, the symptoms can differ. For example, rabies can be fatal in people much more quickly than in unvaccinated cats because people are often not vaccinated against rabies unless they have a high risk of exposure (like vets).
Similarly, toxoplasmosis is super common in cats and rarely causes health problems, but it can cause serious health issues in pregnant women.
Can I catch COVID-19 from my cat?
If you’re worried specifically about coronavirus, it appears pretty unlikely that you and your cat can catch it from each other (but data is still limited).
However, there are some examples of cats catching COVID-19 from their caretakers — such as the tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo — so if you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should stay away from your cat just to be careful, Dr. Irish said.
How can you get sick from your cat?
Zoonotic illnesses can spread in several ways, depending on the disease. These include:
- Contact with cat feces
- Contact with cat saliva
- Scratches from your cat
- Bacteria or parasites from fleas and ticks on your cat
To help prevent sickness, you should always wash your hands after touching your cat’s litter box and wash any bites or scratches with soap and water. And make sure to keep your cat on a reliable flea and tick preventative to keep both you and your cat healthy.
What is the risk of getting sick from your cat?
The good news is that your risk of getting sick from your cat is probably very low. If your cat is healthy and up to date on his vaccinations and parasite prevention, you most likely don’t have to worry.
“Some cats with outdoor access may have a slightly higher risk of exposure, but routine preventive care can also keep these cats safe and healthy,” Dr. Irish said.
However, people with weakened immune systems can be at greater risk of contracting an illness from their cats.
This group includes:
- People who take drugs that suppress their immune systems
- People with AIDS
- The elderly
- People taking chemotherapy treatment
- Pregnant women
Because of this, it’s probably best for pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems to avoid scooping litter boxes if they’re able to, just to be safe.
How to prevent catching an illness from your cat
The best things you can do are vaccinate your cat, put him on parasite prevention medication and take him to all his vet checkups to keep him healthy so he'll have a lower chance of contracting an illness that can spread to you.
“Routine vaccinations and flea/parasite prevention are the most important ways,” Dr. Irish said. “Diseases like rabies and cat-scratch fever are much less likely if your cat is up to date on his/her vaccinations and flea prevention.”
Be super tidy and sanitary with your cat, too. Scoop his litter box every day and practice good hygiene when cleaning up after him, Dr. Irish said.
“Intestinal parasites are transmitted through the fecal-oral route, so you should make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after scooping a litter box with feces in it,” Dr. Irish said.
Here’s a quick checklist you can use to keep your cat healthy and to prevent any illnesses from spreading to you:
- Get your cat vaccinated and take him for regular vet checkups.
- Scoop his litter box daily (and wash your hands after).
- Keep your cat indoors to avoid exposure to illnesses, such as rabies (from other animals) and parasites.
- Wear gloves when gardening in case neighborhood or unfamiliar outdoor cats have gone to the bathroom in the yard.
- Keep your cat up to date on parasite prevention.
- Don’t feed your cat undercooked food to prevent illnesses, such as salmonella.
- Wash cat bites and scratches with soap and water.
And don’t wait to let your vet know if your cat is sick!
“If your kitty is suddenly ill, bring it to your vet’s attention ASAP,” Dr. Irish said.
So the bottom line is that while there are diseases you can catch from your cat, the risk of you getting sick is very low if you keep your cat healthy and practice good hygiene when taking care of him.