Zoonotic diseases are diseases that people can “catch” from animals. There are over 200 zoonotic diseases in the world. We are very fortunate in this area because some of the most severe zoonotic diseases do not exist here – partly because of control measures and vaccination programs in animals and partly because of the climate. Diseases such as rabies, brucellosis and tuberculosis all have high control measures in place in Canada. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recently came out with Guidelines on Feline Zoonoses for 2019 and this article is going to focus on feline zoonoses.
Cats can be somewhat of a risk because some of the time they can carry organisms that can cause disease in people and the cat will appear very healthy and show no signs of disease themselves. Typically disease is presd by saliva, bites or scratches, skin or hair, respiratory secretions (coughing or nasal discharge), feces, urine or vectors (fleas, mosquitoes or ticks). People that have weak or compromised immune systems are most at risk.
There are several diseases or infectious organisms that can be spread between cats and people.
Ringworm - this is a fungal skin infection that can be passed from animals to people and also from people to animals. Typically not life threatening, ringworm is more likely to affect young, old or immune compromised people and animals. In animals it can result in circular areas of hairloss and irritated skin and in people it can cause irritated skin. Cats can sometimes carry the fungus but not show any clinical signs. If a person in your household is diagnosed with ringworm, your cat should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
Parasites – there are several different types of parasites that animals can be infected with that are zoonotic. Toxocara canis and Toxocara felis are two common types of parasites that can infect dogs and cats that can infect people. People are infected by ingestion of the eggs of these parasites which are found in animal feces. The larval stage of them can migrate through people’s bodies and cause tissue damage and illness. It is very important to deworm your pets on a regular basis, consider having your pet’s feces tested for parasites and also make sure to have appropriate hygiene measures around your pets. Other infectious organisms such as salmonella or giardia may also be in high numbers in fecal material.
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite that cats can carry. It is present in the feces and after 24 hours in the environment, it becomes infectious to people. This parasite can be harmful to the fetus in pregnant women. It is recommended that litter boxes be cleaned at least once daily and pregnant women should not clean litter boxes. Thorough washing of hands is also very important after cleaning the litter box or working in soil where cats may have defecated (gardens or sandboxes).
The purpose of this article is not to instill fear into people but rather to remind people to take common sense measures to help protect themselves from zoonotic diseases.
1) Wash your hands before and after handling animals (some of the diseases you may have can also sometimes be transmitted to animals)
2) Keep your animals current on veterinary care – regular parasite control and monitoring, vaccination (rabies vaccination is very important in the control of this zoonotic disease), and examinations if you think you animal is unwell are all important steps in controlling disease.
3) Feed your pets cooked or processed food – E. coli and Salmonella infections can be a result of feeding a pet improperly handled or stored raw meat.
4) Keep litter boxes should be cleaned daily and washed with hot soapy water every 1-4 weeks. Gloves should be worn when cleaning litter boxes. Wash hands thoroughly after cleaning litter boxes.
5) Cover children’s sandboxes when they are not in use (cats often see these a giant litter boxes)
6) Wash food (fruits and vegetables) before eating them
7) Cook meat properly prior to eating it
8) Insect control – mosquitoes, fleas and ticks can spread disease between animals. Consider a flea and tick control product for your pet.
There are many resources on the internet regarding zoonotic diseases – one good one is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) website also has some information for animal owners on zoonoses (as well as other useful information on animal care). The American Association of Feline Practitioners website also has excellent information for cat owners.
If you are concerned that you may have a zoonotic disease, consult your physician and if you animal is unwell, then consult your veterinarian.