skip to main content

Public Health - Seattle & King County

Diseases from cats

Cat

Animal bites: Cats

Dog and cat bites account for $30 million in annual health care costs nationwide and 1% of ER visits. Cat bites have a higher rate of infection than dog bites. Puncture wounds, hand wounds, and wounds that are greater than 24 hours old are at higher risk for infection. King County and state regulations require that animal bites to humans be reported to Public Health. Staff assess the risk of rabies and other infectious diseases and provide advice on medical management. Cats, dogs and ferrets that bite people are placed under rabies quarantine for 10 days. If the animal remains healthy during the quarantine it would not have been carrying rabies virus in its saliva at the time of the bite. Bites from wild animals may require administration of post-exposure rabies shots.


Campylobacteriosis
Campylobacteriosis is an infection of the intestines caused by a bacterium called Campylobacter. The bacteria is commonly found in the feces of infected animals and in food products contaminated with the bacteria during processing or preparation. Raw or undercooked chicken is one of the most common sources of human infection.


Cat scratch disease (Bartonella henselae infection)

Cat scratch disease is a bacterial disease caused by Bartonella henselae. Young cats and kittens are most likely to be the source of human infection. The infection, which does not cause disease in cats, is transmitted between cats by fleas. Infected flea droppings on the cat's fur are the source of human infections, which are spread from the cat to a person by a cat bite, scratch or lick.


Cryptosporidiosis
Cryptosporidiosis is caused by infection with a tiny parasite called Cryptosporidium parvum. The parasite produces cysts (eggs), which are passed in the stool of infected people or animals. The cysts can survive for 2 – 6 months in moist environments and are commonly found in lakes and streams. The parasite is spread by the fecal-oral route. People and animals can get infected when drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food, or by direct contact with infected persons or animals. About 50% of dairy calves are infected and shed cysts. Infection can cause diarrhea and abdominal cramps. The disease is self-liming in healthy people, but can be prolonged and more serious in persons with weakened immune systems.


Dipylidium Infection (Dog and Cat Flea Tapeworm)
Dipylidium is tapeworm of cats and dogs. People become infected when they accidentally swallow a flea infected with tapeworm larvae; most reported cases involve children. Dipylidium infection is easily treated in humans and animals.


Plague
Plague is a serious infection of humans caused by a germ called Yersinia pestis. It is usually caused by the bite of a flea that has fed on an infected wild animal, such as a rat, chipmunk or prairie dog. It usually causes large sores and abscesses in the glands of the arms and legs. Dogs, and especially cats, can also become infected and can spread the disease to their human companions. Wild animals in Washington State do not carry plague germs, but people and domestic animals like dogs and cats could be bitten by infected fleas while traveling to other areas of the country. Plague is treatable with antibiotics.


Rabies prevention

While nearly all human rabies in the U.S. is associated with bat strain rabies, rabies in domestic animals remains a concern. Cats are the domestic animal most likely to be diagnosed with rabies in the U.S. In 2009, 300 cases in cats were reported as compared to 81 dogs, 74 cattle, and 41 horses and mules. These cases represent domestic animals bitten and infected by wildlife. King County regulations require that all cats be vaccinated against rabies by 4 months of age and immunity maintained by booster vaccinations.


Ringworm

Ringworm is a skin disease that can affect people and many kinds of animals. It is not caused by a worm at all, but rather by fungus that can grow in the skin. Ringworm on a person's head usually shows as a bald patch of scaly skin and elsewhere it can cause a red, ring-shaped rash that may be itchy. Dogs and cats, especially kittens, can have ringworm and spread it to people by direct contact with the pet's fur. Spores of the ringworm fungus can survive for a long time on carpet, furniture and other surfaces and cause infections. People can also get ringworm from other people and their personal items like combs.


Salmonellosis
Salmonellosis is a bacterial infection of the intestines caused by a group of bacteria called Salmonella. The bacteria are shed in the stool of infected animals and humans. Infection can happen when a person eats food or drinks water or milk that has been contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. Infection with Salmonella can cause serious disease especially in children younger than 5 years of age and persons with weakened immune systems.


Sporotrichosis

An infection with a type of fungus, sporotrichosis can be spread to people from the skin of infected animals or by getting dirt into scratches and cuts. The fungus, called Sporothrix scheneckii, causes open sores in animals that can spread the disease to people. Dogs, horses and cats can become infected, but most human infections come from contact with cats, such as being scratched by an infected cat. The infection is treatable in both humans and animals.


Toxocara infection (roundworm)

Toxocariasis is a disease affecting people caused by parasitic Toxocara roundworms commonly found in the intestine of dogs and cats. Although most people infected with Toxocara have no symptoms, the parasite is capable of causing blindness and other serious illness. It is likely that toxocariasis is under-diagnosed. A recent study showed that transmission of Toxocara is most common in young children and youth and that about 14% of the U.S. population is infected. Children become infected as they tend to play in (and sometimes eat) soil or sand that has been contaminated with dog or cat feces.


Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is a common disease found in birds and mammals across North America. The infection is caused by a protoza parasite called Toxoplasma gondi and affects 10 to 20 out of every 100 people in North America by the time they are adults. The concern is greatest for pregnant women because the growing fetus can become infected with the toxoplasmosis parasite. This can happen if the mother is newly infected with the parasite while pregnant or just before she becomes pregnant. Infection in the unborn child early in pregnancy can result in miscarriage, poor growth, early delivery or stillbirth. If a child is born with toxoplasmosis he/she can experience eye problems, hydrocephalus (water on the brain), convulsions or mental disabilities.