Zoonotic Diseases are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Transmission of a zoonotic disease can potentially occur when a person comes into direct contact with an animal’s secretions or excretions, like saliva or feces from an infected cat. Some diseases can also be contracted through contact with contaminated water or food. Many zoonotic diseases are also transmitted from fleas, ticks, stray animals to a person.
People who are at increased risked of contracting zoonotic diseases are people who have a weakened or immature immune system (like infants or the elderly), individuals with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and people undergoing cancer therapy.
Some Common Zoonotic Diseases
Salmonellosis- This bacteria generally makes its way into human bodies through contaminated food. The bacteria can be passed through animal feces and may cause symptoms like fever, vomiting, diarrhea and exhaustion.
Cat scratch fever- This bacteria is usually transmitted from cats to humans through scratches. The bacteria is found on nails or claws and can cause high fever, appetite loss, weakness and swollen lymph nodes. Cat scratch fever can be extremely dangerous or even fatal if left untreated in immune compromised individuals. It’s important for these pet owners to tell their doctors they own a cat. Young children should wash scratches thoroughly with soap and water.
Ringworm- A fungal infection of the skin, hair or nails. Ringworm starts as a rapidly spreading hairless, circular lesion. Humans can be infected through use of contaminated objects like hair brushes, towels or clothing or by contact with infected animals like cats, dogs, mice, rats and guinea pigs.
Scabies- Also called sarcoptic mange, scabies is a skin disease caused by itch mites which burrow under the skin. Scabies causes intense itching and scratching that can result in severe eczema. Humans can be infected through contact with infected animals.
Roundworms- Roundworm eggs and microscopic adult worms can be excreted in the feces of dogs and cats infected by worms. Children may be at higher risk for contracting roundworms because they play near pets or they touch infected feces and put their hands in their mouths. Visceral larva migrans, a potentially serious disease that can infect the eyes and other organs, results from inadvertent consumption of roundworm eggs. Because of the risk to children, all cats and dogs should be taken to the veterinarian for regular fecal examinations and dewormings.
Hookworms- Same as roundworms eggs, they’re microscopic and are found in contaminated soil. People most at risk for contracting hookworms are those who walk barefoot in contaminated soil. Cutaneous larva migrans, is an itchy skin disease, caused by contact with contaminated soil.
Toxoplasmosis- Caused by the parasitic protozoan Toxoplasma gondii. People with weakened immune systems, or infants whose mothers are infected during pregnancy, can develop severe illness. People commonly become infected by eating undercooked raw meat, or by inadvertently consuming contaminated soil on unwashed or undercooked vegetables. Unfortunately, pregnant women or immunosuppressed individuals are often mistakenly advised to remove cats from the household to reduce risk of toxoplasmosis. However, people are highly unlikely to become infected by direct contact with their cats.
Cats can become infected by eating infected rodents, birds, or anything contaminated with feces from another infected cat. An infected cat can shed the parasite in it’s feces for up to two weeks. The parasites must then mature for one to five days before it becomes capable of causing infection. However, it can persist in the environment for many months and continue to contaminate soil, water, gardens, sandboxes, or any other place where an infected cat has defecated.
Rabies- A viral disease that is caused by coming in contact with an animal infected with rabies by bite or saliva from an infected animal. Cats are highly susceptible to rabies, which attacks the central nervous system, causing a variety of signs. Rabies is almost always fatal. In order to protect human health, rabies vaccination of cats and dogs are required by law. Even if your cat is kept indoors, it is important to keep his or her rabies vaccine current because since cats can escape outdoors, and because rabid animals like bats and raccoons, can occasionally enter the home. To further reduce your risk of rabies, avoid contact with wildlife and stray animals. See a doctor immediately if you have been bitten by an animal.
You can greatly reduce your risk of contracting zoonotic diseases by practicing good hygiene, avoid eating undercooked meat and always wash fruits and vegetables before consuming them. Keeping lids on sand boxes, having yearly fecals and occasional dewormings done on your cat can ensure that your kitty remains free from parasites.