Jon Geller, D.V.M. shares information on cat health care and the treatment of serious cat diseases.
Cat feeding on salmon.
Learn about cat health care and the treatment of cat diseases.
Although uncommon, there are some serious diseases that can pass from cats to humans, especially from cats that live outside. By vaccinating and de-worming their barn cats, cat owners can greatly reduce the risk of zoonotic disease (disease transmitted from animals to humans), such as roundworms or rabies, and other conditions involving cat health care.
In locations shared with prairie dogs, infected fleas can jump onto cats and cause the respiratory form of bubonic plague. Affected cats are very ill, with fever, severe respiratory signs and swollen lymph nodes under their jaw. When these cats sneeze, they can pass an aerosolized form of plague to humans, a disease that requires hospitalization and intensive care.
Cats that defecate in the garden can create serious risks for pregnant women. Toxoplasma, an intestinal parasite, can be passed in the stool and be acquired by bare-handed gardeners. Toxoplasmosis can cause serious developmental defects in a developing human fetus, including spina bifida. Gardeners should wear gloves if there is any risk that cats are using the garden as a litter box. Better yet, fence your cats out of the garden entirely.
Cats are tough hombres with hardy immune systems. They usually can fend off skin parasites such as lice, mites, ticks and fleas. However, one ubiquitous and persistent fungus has an affinity for cats: Ringworm is a daunting skin infection that can infect your cat, then pass to humans as well.
In cats, it looks like patches of missing hair, often near the ears, that can turn into a scabby sore after being scratched for a few days. Your veterinarian can diagnose and treat ringworm by taking a sample of hair from your cat and examining in a microscope or letting it grow in a culture medium. If you see any circular red rashes appearing on your own skin, check out your cats, then see your doctor.
Cats that eat birds infected with avian influenza can acquire the disease. Numerous large cats and domestic cats in Asia have died after eating infected birds.
If avian influenza arrives in the United States — and remember, it hasn't yet — it will probably be via migratory birds. Hunting cats who eat these birds may very well be the sentinels for the arrival of avian influenza when they become ill. It is unknown whether humans can acquire avian flu from cats, but vigilant cat owners should be alert for any dead birds on their property that might coincide with respiratory signs in their cats. The risk for avian influenza virus infection in cats is very low, however.
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