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Feature January 2013 Issue

Monitoring zoonotic diseases in cats

Monitoring zoonotic diseases
According to an article in Science Daily, most new infectious diseases in humans come from animals – including companion animals. However, international agencies currently monitor only diseases transmitted from livestock to people, such as swine flu and avian flu. The study was led by Michael Day, a veterinary pathology professor at the University of Bristol in the U.K.

The study discusses the need for international monitoring of zoonotic diseases that come from companion animals, particularly cats and dogs. This has been recommended by organizations that include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). It recommends that vets keep track of and report on diseases that are potentially transmitted from pets to their owners.

According to the Humane Society, there are approximately 86.4 million cats living as pets in the U.S. Roughly 33 percent of households have cats, and the average cat-owning household has two cats. Considering these significant numbers, the importance of monitoring the incidence of diseases that are potentially transmitted from cats to humans is clear.

Many people think of rabies as a primary threat, but because rabies vaccination is required for dogs and cats in most states and counties now, contracting rabies from your cat isn’t extremely likely even if he is bitten by an infected animal.

The most common disease that can be transmitted from cats to people is known as Cat Scratch disease, which is a bacterial infection that affects at least 25,000 people per year. Symptoms include muscle and joint pain, fatigue, fever, swollen lymph nodes and lack of appetite. People become infected when they’re scratched or bitten by an infected cat, but they may also acquire the disease from fleas living on an infected cat. Healthy adults eventually recover with no lasting effects, but people with compromised immune systems are at greater risk for serious disease.

Other diseases that can be transmitted to humans from their cats include infections with parasites such as fleas, roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms; fungi such as ringworm; and protozoa, such as giardiasis and the more common toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasmosis can be contracted by handling raw meat, or by coming into contact with cat feces via the litter box. If you feed your cat a raw food diet (which Catnip does not advise for both nutritional and safety reasons), follow safe handling procedures such as washing your hands before and after making food and before and after feeding times, and thoroughly cleaning food bowls, utensils and countertops. Washing your hands immediately after scooping and changing your cat’s litter boxes is also important.

People with compromised immune systems and unborn children are most susceptible to toxoplasmosis. The disease is not transmitted directly from cats to people, so it’s not necessary to avoid handling your cat provided your cat does not have feces in its fur.

Practice good hygiene
Most diseases transmissible from cats to humans are preventable through good hygiene — particularly hand washing — which doctors and health organizations cite as an important tool for preventing infectious diseases in general. Parasitic diseases can be prevented not only by good hygiene but by protecting your cat with a good anti-parasitic medication from your vet.

Monitoring and reporting of possible zoonotic diseases has the potential to alert organizations such as the CDC and the WHO to emerging diseases, and help them mitigate the threat. It may also help them better understand how the diseases are transmitted from pets to people, and better advise owners on ways to protect themselves.

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