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Cats are one of the most popular pets because they can provide the same level of comfort and companionship as dogs but are generally much easier to care for. Unfortunately, both types of companion animals can carry diseases and transmit them to humans.
Indoor cats spend all their time indoors and have an isolated lifestyle that prevents them from running into other animals or dangers outside. So do indoor cats carry disease? Unfortunately, despite your cat's isolation, they can carry diseases that potentially affect your own health and well-being.
Diseases indoor cats carry range from minor to major and can affect your entire household. Luckily, you can do a few things to reduce the potential for disease transmission to protect yourself, your family, and your pets. Keep reading to learn more about the diseases cats carry and how to protect yourself.
What Diseases do Cats Carry?
Do cats carry diseases? Unfortunately, they can. Comparing indoor vs. outdoor cats, while indoor cats are less likely to carry diseases compared to outdoor cats due to their limited exposure to other animals, environmental hazards, and pests, they can still transmit certain diseases to other pets and humans.
What diseases do indoor cats carry? Let's take a look at the most common diseases cats carry and can spread to humans:
Campylobacteriosis is caused by a bacteria called Campylobacter, which affects animals and humans. This infection spreads when an individual or pet comes into contact with the feces of infected animals or consumes contaminated water or food. Humans who clean their cat’s litter are at an increased risk if they don't wash their hands.
Cats with Campylobacter may show no visible signs at all. However, people can experience bloody diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting. The symptoms usually begin within a few days after infection and can last for a week.1
Cat Scratch Disease
Cat scratch disease (CSD) is another bacterial infection. Caused by Bartonella henselae, cats become infected with CSD through flea bites, coming into contact with infected cats where they might cause open wounds, and blood transfusions. Then, humans become exposed when scratched or licked by an infected cat.1
Exposure to CSD is fairly common in cats, but most infected cats don't show visible symptoms, while others experience mild illnesses. In people, CSD can cause a mild infection with a raised bump at the scratch or lick site one to three weeks after exposure. The infection itself can cause fever, muscle pains, and more severe symptoms.1
Cat tapeworm is a parasite that can spread to dogs, cats, and humans, making it particularly dangerous. Tapeworm in cats is spread when a cat swallows an infected flea, likely due to grooming themselves. Because swallowing a flea is the only way to get a tapeworm, it's rare in humans, but it can happen.
In most cases, tapeworms are not harmful to cats and won't cause any health issues. The same is true for humans.1
Giardiasis is caused by the giardia parasite found in water, food, and soil contaminated by feces from an infected person or animal. It's spread by swallowing feces that contain the parasite. Because it's spread through the feces of an infected animal, the risk of getting it from your indoor cat is rare.1
MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria resistant to many antibiotics. This disease is spread between people and animals through touching, making it one of the most dangerous on our list. Cats without symptoms can easily carry MRSA and spread it to humans and other pets.
Many people with MRSA don't have symptoms, but when left untreated, it can lead to lung and blood infections, becoming life-threatening.1
Rabies is one of the most well-known animal diseases and is caused by a virus that spreads through the bite of infected animals. Dogs are more likely to get rabies than indoor cats, but the virus spreads through contact with saliva or brain and nervous system tissue from an infected animal through bites or scratches.
Cats with rabies experience behavioral changes, paralysis, restlessness, and panting before death. There is no cure for rabies once an animal begins displaying symptoms. However, if you believe your cat was bitten or scratched by an unknown animal, taking them to the vet for a booster might prevent infection.
Rabies in humans is also deadly and can appear months after infection. Again, it's too late for treatment once symptoms appear, so if an animal bites you, you should receive an immunization as soon as possible.1
Sporotrichosis is a type of fungal infection that spreads from the environment through a cut in the skin, such as when a cat bites or scratches you. This disease is rare in cats because the fungus is most common in plants like moss, roses, hay, soil, and decaying organic material. However, if your cat has sporotrichosis, they'll need immediate treatment.
Some cats experience no visual symptoms. However, the first visible sign is often skin lesions. Other symptoms include poor appetite, weight loss, lethargy, and respiratory issues.
Symptoms in humans depend on the site of the infection, but they can include bumps that grow into open sores or slow-healing ulcers. The infection can also spread to other parts of the body or cause coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain.1
Toxoplasmosis is caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite that lives in soil, water, undercooked or raw meat, and the feces of an infected animal. The parasite is shed through the cat's feces, contaminating the environment around them, especially the litter box. People can get infected by cleaning a litter box of an infected cat without washing their hands or handling anything that might be contaminated by cat poop, including food and water.
Cats with toxoplasmosis rarely have symptoms but typically shed the parasite for up to three weeks after infection. Healthy humans infected with toxoplasmosis may not appear sick, but others can experience mild flu-like symptoms or develop eye disease.
Toxoplasmosis can cause serious issues in pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems. In pregnant women, it can lead to stillbirth, miscarriage, and other health issues for the baby. Infants may also develop symptoms later in life.2
Tularemia is caused by the Francisella tularensis bacteria and is spread through contact with infected animals, breathing in the bacteria, contaminated food and water, and tick bites. Cats may become infected if they eat small rodents or get bitten by ticks. They can then infect humans by scratching or biting them.
Tularemia can cause fever, fatigue, lack of appetite, and yellowing of the eyes in cats. In humans, it can cause fever, ulcers, chills, joint pain, and weakness. It can also infect the eyes, throat, and respiratory system.1
Preventing The Spread of Disease
The costs of pet ownership are higher for those who wait to treat disease rather than prevent it. Do indoor cats carry diseases? Again, indoor cats are less likely to carry and transmit diseases than pets that spend time outdoors. However, they're still susceptible to diseases and can transmit them to humans and other pets.
Here are a few ways to protect your cat to prevent the spread of various diseases they may carry:
- Keep your cat indoors: Keeping your cat indoors reduces the likelihood of them contracting various diseases that can be passed onto you.
- Supervise outdoor experiences: Outdoor activities can provide your cat with mental stimulation. However, you should never let your cat roam the yard on their own. Instead, consider using a cat enclosure, AKA catio, or walk your cat on a leash if you choose to let them outdoors. However, indoors is usually the safest place for your cat to prevent the spread of disease.
- Ensure your cat gets the proper vaccinations: Your cat should follow a regular vaccination schedule to maintain their health and prevent disease. Vaccinations like the FVRCP vaccine protect your cat against infectious illnesses and minimize the risk of them transmitting the illness to other pets.
- Provide flea, tick, and parasite protection: Even indoor cats are at risk of fleas, ticks, and other parasites. Regularly using flea and tick care products can protect your cat's health.
- Wash your hands after touching pets, cleaning up after them, and feeding: Always wash your hands after handling your pets, especially after feeding them or cleaning the litter box. Since many diseases are passed through the feces of infected cats, you should always clean your hands or wear gloves when handling your cat's litter.
- Ensure your cat gets an annual vet exam and gets care when they need it: Your cat should get an annual physical exam to detect illnesses early or manage existing diseases. You should also never be afraid to consult a vet if you're worried about your pet's health. Dutch is here for you when you need prompt veterinary care. Schedule an appointment from the comfort of your home, and we can help diagnose and treat a variety of common cat ailments.
Is it safer to have an indoor-only cat?
Generally speaking, it is safer to have an indoor-only cat. Indoor cats live up to twice as long as outdoor cats because there are fewer threats to them, and unlike dogs, they don't have to spend any time outdoors.
Indoor cats are less likely to come into contact with other animals carrying diseases, parasites, and illnesses that can be transmitted to you and other pets.
For instance, while indoor cats don't spend time in an environment where fleas and ticks thrive, these parasites can hitch a ride on your clothing or sneak in through an open door to enter your home and bite your cat. Tick and flea medicine for cats protects your pet and family from infestation and the diseases these parasites carry.
Luckily, your cat doesn't have to spend any time outside. They can be happy spending every second of their day inside as long as you provide them with enough mental and physical stimulation.
Can my indoor cat make me sick?
Yes, it's possible your indoor cat can make you sick if they have a transmittable disease. However, this is rare because, with proper care and precautions, the risk of getting sick from your cat is small.
Other than transmittable diseases, you may feel sick around your cat if you're allergic to them. Many people don't even realize they're allergic to cats until they spend time around them.
Do indoor cats need vaccinations?
All cats need vaccinations, even if they have relatively isolated indoor lives. Many common cat illnesses can occur even though your cat never goes outside, especially if they're young.
While keeping your cat indoors prevents diseases transmitted by other unknown animals, vaccinations provide an additional layer of protection.
Do indoor-only cats carry toxoplasmosis?
Indoor-only cats can carry toxoplasmosis, although they have a lower risk of it because they're less likely to hunt and eat infected prey. They're also not exposed to the feces of infected cats. However, if an indoor cat used to be an outdoor cat, they may have toxoplasmosis.
There are also other ways an indoor cat can become infected, such as consuming raw meat or coming into contact with contaminated soil inside the home.2
Can indoor cats carry disease? They're less likely to than outdoor cats, but they can still carry and transmit diseases to humans and other pets. Ensuring your cat's safety protects them while preventing the spread of disease.
If you're concerned your cat may have an illness or disease, talk to a Dutch vet today. Veterinary telemedicine can help limit the spread of disease by giving your cat the care they need in the comfort of your home. Try Dutch today.
"Cats." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Jan. 2022, www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/cats.html.
"Toxoplasmosis: An Important Message for Cat Owners." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/resources/printresources/catowners_2017.pdf.