Is Your Cat At Risk For Zoonotic Diseases?


On September 6, our blog focused on protecting your dog against zoonotic diseases. Today, we are going to turn our attention to cats and some of the zoonotic diseases they can carry. Remember, zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans. If a pet is infected with a zoonotic disease, this does not automatically mean the average person will also contract the disease. However, it is important to understand which diseases may pose a risk to humans and always practice good sanitation and hygiene. Also, note that individuals with underdeveloped or weakened immune systems (e.g., infants, elderly, those with suppressed immune systems) could be more susceptible. Always consult your healthcare provider for questions regarding human health.

Many of the topics we discussed in our blog about dogs and zoonotic diseases also apply to cats. Keeping vaccines current (most specific to this discussion – the rabies vaccine), utilizing a routine prophylactic dewormer (such as monthly Revolution), having an annual fecal sample analyzed, and keeping cats out of situations where they can encounter wildlife are all excellent steps to take. But there are some other items that we should also discuss that are more specific to your feline friend – take a look…

Zoonotic Disease Considerations for Cats:


For felines, the most important vaccine to consider in a discussion about zoonotic diseases is the Rabies vaccine. North Carolina law requires that all cats and dogs be kept current on the rabies vaccine at all times. As a reminder, Lawndale Veterinary Hospital is holding a rabies vaccine clinic in honor of World Rabies Day on Thursday, September 28, 2017 from 8 AM to 5 PM. Vaccines will be $12 and walk-ins are welcome. Should your pet need other veterinary services though, please schedule an appointment.

Deworm and Stay Current with Annual Fecal Testing

  • As with dogs, routinely deworming cats can remove certain intestinal parasites, some of which may be zoonotic. Some of the more common intestinal parasites that can be zoonotic include roundworms and hookworms. If your cat receives monthly Revolution, then he or she is protected against these roundworms and hookworms.
  • Tapeworms that are transmitted by fleas can also pose a zoonotic risk, although less commonly (if the flea is ingested). If your cat becomes infested with fleas, you should be on the lookout for tapeworms. If you notice rice-like segments in your cat’s feces, these could be consistent with tapeworms.
  • There are other species of tapeworms (Echinococcus spp. and Diphyllobothrium spp.) found in wildlife that can also pose a zoonotic risk. These are more of a problem for cats who are hunters and spend time outdoors.
  • Since pets can have intestinal parasite infections without showing clinical signs, make sure you have your cat’s fecal sample checked at least annually.

Utilize Ectoparasite Prevention

Year-round flea and tick prevention is best. Both fleas and ticks can transmit zoonotic diseases. For cats, one of the zoonotic diseases you may have heard about is Cat Scratch Disease. This is caused by the bacterium Bartonella henselae, which can be transmitted by fleas (either through flea bites or flea feces). Many cats infected with this bacterium do not show signs of disease. They can transmit the infection to humans through a scratch, bite, or licking an open wound on a person’s skin.


Cats can develop a fungal skin infection called ringworm. Some cats can carry this fungal organism without showing symptoms. Others can develop skin lesions such hair loss, scaling, or a change in skin color. We tend to see ringworm in cats who came from an environment that housed a large number of animals.

Minimize Roaming and Contact with Wildlife

Being outdoors and/or around wild animals can cause cats to be exposed to some zoonotic diseases. Keeping cats indoors can protect them from many of these concerns. Here are some things a cat could encounter:

  • Parasites: There are a number of parasites that cats can encounter or become infected with through roaming, interacting with wildlife, or hunting wildlife. Examples include external parasites (fleas, ticks), internal parasites (including roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms), and protozoal infections (such as Giardiasis, Toxoplasmosis, Cryptosporidiosis).
  • Injuries: Outdoor cats have the potential to become involved in fighting – either with other outdoor cats, or with wild animals. This can lead to injuries, wounds, and infections that need to be addressed by a veterinarian. Additionally, there is the potential for disease transmission (including rabies – see below).
  • Rabies: If your cat has physical contact with a wild animal, then your cat may be bitten or scratched. If that wild animal is rabid, then your cat can be exposed to the rabies virus through that contact. Cats who are current on their rabies vaccine should get the rabies vaccine boostered within 72 hours of contacting wildlife. Cats who are not current on their rabies vaccine will need to be quarantined, or possibly even euthanized depending on the situation – which is reason enough to keep that rabies vaccine current at all times!
  • Bat encounters: We have all heard stories about bats being found inside homes. Bats can carry rabies, so it’s best never to handle a bat that you find. If you find a bat somewhere in your home, close that room off and contact animal control for removal and rabies testing of the bat. Contact your local public health office or your physician to discuss what should be done for your family’s health. Animal control will also advise you on the next steps if you have pets, which will be dependent on whether or not your pet’s rabies vaccine status is up-to-date. You can learn more and find resources about bats and rabies by visiting the One Health Commission’s website.

Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS, MS

Photo Credits: