During cold and flu season, humans make a point to avoid contact with public spaces and other individuals to prevent catching a sickness. It’s easy to avoid sick strangers in public, but avoiding sick family members isn’t quite as simple. But aside from our parents, partners and children, should you be worried about catching an illness from your pet?
Cats can get sick just like humans can. In fact, cats can suffer from many of the same problems, such as allergies, the common cold, rabies and other, more serious diseases. In an age where swine and bird flu are common concerns, many pet owners also worry about household health conditions that can be transmitted to and from pets.
Fortunately, many of the illnesses your cat comes down with cannot be transmitted to human, including the common cold.
Non-transmittable pet diseases
There are a ton of diseases that your cat might encounter throughout its life, but many of those are unable to be spread to humans. This means that if your cat comes down with a cold, respiratory disease or other similar problems caused by viruses, you have an extremely low chance of catching it.
The reasoning behind this is that these viruses don’t affect humans and cats in the same way. Different viruses typically cause symptoms in humans and cats, so if you come in contact with your cat’s virus, it’s probably not going to cause you harm like it is to your pet. Common cold and flu viruses in cats include herpesvirus, calicivirus and feline chlamydia. These are extremely unlikely to affect humans.
This also means that many of the health problems humans experience are not passable to pets, either. You don’t need to worry about snuggling up to your furry friend on the couch while battling a nasty cold—your cat will not get sick because of you!
Be cautious of pet-to-pet transmission
While you cannot catch a cold from your cat, if you have other pets, they might have a significant risk of catching viruses and diseases from the infected pet. Many viruses and bacteria that cause colds are contagious within the species, so they can spread and infect others. Some diseases can also infect dogs (and vice-versa).
If your cat gets diagnosed with an illness and you have other pets, it’s important to take it to the vet to have it treated. You also should keep your infected pet away from the rest of the pets, so it doesn’t have the opportunity to spread the illnesses.
Diseases you can catch from your cat
Although many common illnesses like colds cannot be spread between humans and pets, there are some diseases that you can catch from your cat. These conditions are called “zoonotic diseases".
Usually, zoonotic disease are spread through animal bites or scratches that break the skin and transmit viruses and bacteria into your bloodstream. They can also be contracted through contact with infected feces or urine, as well as through skin-to-skin contact.
One common zoonotic disease is rabies. Many animals can transmit rabies, and your household cat might contract it through an altercation with a wild, rabid animal. If your cat were to come home and bite or scratch you, it could pass the infection to you.
Contact-related diseases like salmonella and ringworm are also somewhat common in cats. Cats can be a carrier of salmonella and pass on the disease through its feces. If you were to come in contact with the feces and somehow ingest bacteria after touching other things, you could contract the disease, too. Ringworm, on the other hand, is fungal and can be passed between humans and cats with as little as contact with the skin or fur.
The most common cat-to-human infections, though, are through parasites. Mites that have scabies, lice and fleas can be transmitted via your cat’s skin, from which they can leap to human hosts. Worm-type parasites, such as roundworms and tapeworms, can also infect us if we come in contact with eggs that were passed by an infected cat. The notable exception to this is heartworm, which cannot be passed from cats to humans.
Keep a clean and healthy home
If your cat develops a cold or respiratory illness, you don’t need to fear that you’ll catch it—it’s much more likely that you’ll get a cold from a perfect stranger. However, you should still be wary of catching zoonotic diseases from your pets if they get diagnosed.
Always have your pets examined by a vet if they fall ill, so you can be sure that their illness is not transmittable to you and other family members. Regardless of whether the illness can be transmitted or not, always wash your hands and keep your home clean when handling a sick pet to minimize the risk of infection for yourself and other pets.