As cat lovers, we spend a lot of time with our feline friends. Whether we’re cuddling on the couch or simply hanging out in the same room, we’re bound to have a lot of physical contact with our beloved cats.
All of this contact means we are invariably sharing germs, and anyone who has seen their cat throw up or sneeze has probably asked themselves: can cats make you sick?
The good news is that while some illnesses are transferrable between cats and humans, the vast majority of diseases aren’t communicable between the two species.
In this article we’ll cover the following:
As much as we love our cats, the truth is that sometimes they are little germ factories. Cats can transmit a variety of illnesses to their human friends. While some are simply an annoyance, such as Giardia, others such as toxoplasmosis can be very dangerous.
Illnesses that can be spread between species are called “zoonotic” diseases. The most famous example of a zoonotic disease is rabies, which is extremely dangerous and almost always fatal, hence the requirement that all domestic pets be vaccinated against it.
A few other examples of zoonotic diseases are:
Luckily, more common illnesses such as pink eye, cold, or flu are not transmittable between felines and humans. So if you’re out of commission with the common cold, never fear: you can snuggle your cat as much as you like without fear of infecting them.
Cats are usually pretty good at hiding the fact that they are sick. This is because of their fine-tuned survival instincts, which dictate that they should hide signs of illness from predators until it’s no longer possible to do so.
Because cats live lives of luxury in our homes, they may be a little more willing to let their guard down. Even so, cats are unable to speak and so we must pay close attention to their behavior in order to ascertain whether or not they are ill.
There are a few telltale signs that your cat is feeling under the weather:
While many cats will suffer from minor ailments, such as digestive upset or respiratory infections, the above signs, especially if your cat shows more than one or two of them, are signals that something is wrong.
If you notice your cat displaying any of the above symptoms, your safest bet is to bring them to the vet. It’s always better (and often less expensive) if you catch problems early rather than letting them fester.
As far as keeping your cat healthy, there are a few things you can do:
If your cat is sneezing like these kitties, don’t worry! It’s very unlikely that you can catch what they have.
While your cat and dog may share the couch and occasionally their food, there are very few diseases that are transmittable from canines to felines (and vice versa). Cats and dogs, despite both being common pets for humans, are genetically very different (which is one of the reasons they can’t mate) and are susceptible to different viruses and illnesses.
Most viral infections, such as the common cold or the flu, are not transferable between dogs and cats. Many bacterial infections are also not transferable between cats and dogs. The biggest exception to this rule is “Bordetella”, which is a nasty bacterial infection that dogs and cats can catch from each other.
However, parasites such as fleas, ticks, and various types of worms are very contagious and can often be transferred between the two species.
If you have both cats and dogs and one of them comes down with a parasite, be sure to limit their contact with one another (quarantine them if necessary) and consult your vet on the best way to prevent spreading the parasite. The only thing worse than one sick pet is two sick pets!
There isn’t much of a difference in the communicability of diseases found in kittens and adult cats.
Zoonotic illnesses, such as rabies and many types of parasites, are transferable to humans from both kittens and adult cats; their age has nothing to do with it.
Think of it this way: if you can catch a disease from an adult cat, you can certainly catch it from a kitten as well.
This is a pretty common misconception. While some illnesses that kittens carry are particularly harmful to young children and the elderly (in the same way that the flu is more serious in the very young or the very old), there is no reason to think that kittens pose any particular danger to human babies.
The only exceptions to this rule are communicable diseases such as toxocariasis and ringworm, which young children are more susceptible to only because they are more likely to come into contact with the germs.
For example, toxocariasis is found in soil that kittens have used as a bathroom. While adults are unlikely to put contaminated soil in their mouths, young children may do so and unwittingly expose themselves to the bacteria.
Here’s a video of human babies enjoying time with fur-babies:
Technically, they can. But don’t worry because the vast majority of illnesses that housecats contract are not communicable to human beings.
And for those that are transferable to people, there are plenty of ways to limit your exposure to kitty germs:
Has your cat ever accidentally made you sick? We want to hear about it! Let us know in the comments.
After moving to New York City from Rome, Italy, I began working in the nonprofit world. Despite my day job, my passion has always been animals, especially dogs and cats, and writing. What better way to combine the two? I’ve been a pet owner for 15 years, and my menagerie includes dogs, cats, hamsters and the occasional hermit crab. My beloved cat, Mozart, who I found as a newborn kitten, sparked my love for felines and is now nearly 15 years old. I am an enthusiastic volunteer at the local ASPCA, where I enjoy spending time with the cats and cleaning up after the dogs. I’ve been writing about pet ownership and care for the past five years.