Cat Scratch Fever! (it’s not just a 1970’s rock anthem)

Did you know that Cat Scratch Fever is actually a disease that humans can potentially contract from their cats (in addition to being the title of an iconic Ted Nugent song)?  Although uncommon, our dogs and cats can potentially be reservoirs of infectious agents that have the potential to make humans sick, particularly the very young, very old and immunocompromised human population.   You can reduce your risk of exposure to some of these zoonotic diseases by following some simple guidelines. 

By definition, a zoonotic disease is a disease that can be passed from animals to humans. These diseases can involve viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and tick borne infections to name a few.  Don’t panic!   There are some very simple steps you can take at home to minimize the possibility of contracting these diseases but the most important factor to consider is the health of your pets. 

Routine veterinary exams are a critical component of identifying issues in your pet that could predispose you, the human caregiver, to a zoonotic disease.  Hair loss in both dogs and cats can be due to a fungus that is commonly known as ringworm.  Humans can contract ringworm through contact with those skin lesions.  Another cause of hair loss in dogs that can be transmitted to humans is Sarcoptic mange which is a mite infestation.  If your pet has an area of hair loss or is excessively itchy, your veterinarian should be consulted. 

In addition to routine physical examinations, most all pets should receive an annual examination of their stool sample to detect intestinal parasites.  Examples of intestinal parasites that can potentially infect humans include rounds worms, hookworms, Giardia, a certain type of tapeworm among others.  Regular administration of Revolution for cats and heartworm prevention for dogs can prevent some of these intestinal parasites. 

During the wellness examinations of dogs and cats, vaccinations are given based upon your pet’s risk factors.  Rabies is a viral infection that is often fatal in most mammals who are infected.  Dogs and cats can obtain Rabies through contact with infected wildlife.  Humans can contract rabies through contact with the saliva of an infected dog or cat.  Rabies vaccines are required by law for ALL dogs and cats regardless of their lifestyle due to the fatal nature of the disease and the zoonotic potential to humans.  Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that dogs can be vaccinated against.  Although it is rare in humans, it can be transmitted from a dog’s infected urine.  If your dog is not vaccinated for Leptospirosis, talk with your veterinarian regarding whether or not it is appropriate for your pet.

The lifestyles of our pets can predispose them to more infectious agents.  Although controversial, it must be mentioned that feeding dogs raw diets can predispose them to Salmonella which is shed in their feces.  Humans can contract salmonella through accidental exposure to a pet’s fecal matter from a paw for example or from an accident in the house.  Cats and dogs can contract toxoplasmosis by eating certain types of wildlife.  Humans can contract toxoplasmosis via exposure to the feces of  dogs or cats shedding toxoplasmosis cysts in gardens, sand boxes and litter boxes.  Toxoplasmosis can have severe consequences in pregnant women.   Wearing garden gloves, thoroughly washing produce and keeping children’s sand boxes covered can help to prevent human exposure.   Limiting your cat’s exposure to wildlife and the outdoors will help to minimize toxoplasmosis infections in addition to some of the intestinal parasites previously mentioned.

Lastly, it is imperative that all dogs and cats receive regular, year round protection against fleas and ticks.  If your pets are not on flea and tick preventatives (Frontline, Revolution, Nexgard, Seresto collars for example), they are more likely to bring ticks into your household.  These ticks can then infect you and your family members.  Examples of diseases that you can contract from ticks include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis among others.  Cat Scratch Fever is a bacterial infection that is transmitted to cats from fleas.  Cats can then transmit the bacteria to humans via scratches from their claws that are contaminated with flea feces.  Additionally, cat bites are another potential mode of transmission of Cat Scratch Fever to humans.    

In summary, taking care of your pet’s wellness is the first step in preventing zoonotic diseases in humans.  Seeking veterinary advice for any health issues can help to detect infectious agents in your pets that could be problematic for you.  Practicing common sense hygiene, regular application of flea and tick control and making smart lifestyle choices are equally important.  If you have concerns that you may have contracted something from your pet, contacting your personal physician is critical.   For more information on this topic, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/basics/zoonotic-diseases.html or www.petsandparasites.org