Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Scoop on Zoonotic Disease & Your Cat

What is a Zoonotic Disease?

Zoonotic disease or zoonoses are terms used to describe an infection or disease that can be transmitted from an animal to a human being.

Am I at risk for contracting a zoonotic disease from my cat?

Current evidence supports the fact that pets pose a minimal zoonotic risk to their human companions. Cats kept indoor are exposed to fewer diseases that could be transmitted to humans. Your risk may be slightly higher if you fall into one of the following groups:

People with compromised immune systems from disease or medications:

  • People with HIV/AIDS

  • People on chemotherapy or receiving radiation therapy

  • People who are elderly or have chronic diseases

  • People born with congenital immune deficiencies

  • People who have received organ or bone marrow transplants

  • Pregnant women (a fetus's immune system is not fully developed, and the pregnant women's immune system is altered so that she won't regect the fetus)

If you fall into one of these categories, it doesn't mean you have to give up your pet! It simply means that you should take some basic precautions such as not contacting your cat's feces directly, monitoring for any signs of illness in your cat and washing your hands after extensive handling of your cat.

It is important to keep in mind that numerous studies prove that the benefits of having a pet far outweigh the risks. Sharing your home with a pet is often just what your doctor ordered!

The most common zoonotic diseases of cats include:

  • Ringworm

  • Toxoplasmosis

  • Salmonellosis

  • Campylobacter infection

  • Giardia infection

  • Crptosporidium infection

  • Roundworms

What can I do to reduce the risk of contracting a disease from my cat?

Proper litter box cleaning is the most effective way to reduce the risk of contracting a disease from your cat. Here are simple guidelines you should follow if you call into a risk category:

Place your litter box away from the kitchen and other areas where you prepare or store food If possible, have someone who is not at risk to clean the litterbox. Otherwise, clean the litter box daily, since the organism that causes Toxoplasmosis takes at least twenty-four hours to become infectious. Use disposable litter box liners and change them each time you clean the litter box. Don't dump the litter. If you dump litter, you could potentially aerosolize an infectious agent and inhale it. Be sure to slowly pour the litter or simply twist and close the litter box liner.

Clean the litter box at least twice a month with hot water, letting the hot water stand in the box for at least five minutes. This simple cleaning technique will kill the Toxoplasma organism.

Wear disposable gloves and discard them after each use. Thoroughly wash your hands after cleaning the litter box.

In addition to Toxoplasmosis, is there anything else I can get from my cat's feces?

Cats can occasionally be the source for intestinal aliments including some bacterial infections (Salmonella and camplobacter) and some intestinal parasites (Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and Roundworms.) These diseases can be spread to people by direct contact with the feces of an infected cat. Many other animals also carry these infections. Salmonella and Campylobacter are most often spread through undercooked meat or improperly prepared food.

How can I prevent my cat from getting bacterial infections and intestinal parasites?

Preventing these diseases is easier than you think. Some simple guidelines to keep your cat healthy are:

  • Feed your cat a high quality commercial cat food.

  • If you must feed your cat meat, poultry, or eggs, cook them well.

  • Wash hands thoroughly after handling raw meat.

  • Keep your cat indoors and prevent it from hunting.

  • Keep your cat away from other cats and have any new cats examined by your veterinarian before exposing them to existing cats.

If you are concerned about you or your cat contracting any parasites or bacterial please always consult your Physician and/or Veterinarian.

This information was written by: Ernest Ward, DVM