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There are so many benefits having a cat as your pet. Not only are they good company, they are low-maintenance pets and can generally look after themselves, so long as food and water are readily available, and they have ample opportunity to explore the outdoors (if they are an outdoor cat). A cat will purr gratefully as you stroke its soft fur, greet you with a friendly meow when you come home, react playfully to games and give you comfort when you need it, but can you catch infections and diseases from your cat?
As it so happens, owning a cat could in fact reduce your risks of heart disease according to research and petting a cat can aid relaxation, therefore bringing stress levels down. So, a cat can in many ways, be a positive factor for better health and wellbeing.
The chances of picking up an infection or disease from your cat are relatively low as long as you take care of yourself (and your cat). Hand washing regularly is one of the rituals you can adopt, especially after handling a cat around the mouth area or around their genitals. If you have an outdoor cat, they tend to pick up germs, so you must ensure good cleanliness and hygiene back at home. If you are susceptible to illness, then it is best not to get a kitten as they are riskier when it comes to the chances of infection. If you are pregnant, you should also exercise extreme caution especially around kittens.
You should also regularly take your cat to the vet for check-ups; this reduces the chances of infection and disease because a vet will be able to spot any signs often before they become visible.
One of the most common infections you can catch from a cat is from flea bites. These bites aren’t dangerous, but they are irritating as they’re usually itchy. These appear as red spots, normally around the wrists and ankle areas. To combat flea bites, check your cat for fleas and buy a good flea product (ask your vet to recommend one). If your cat has fleas, you must treat the problem immediately.
Ticks are more dangerous as they occasionally lead to Lyme disease in humans and that’s why you must be vigilant about taking your cat to the vet on a regular basis for a health check.
If you’re bitten by your cat there is a risk of infection. Always clean the wound and visit your doctor. You might need a tetanus injection especially if your tetanus jab is not up to date. If the bite area becomes swollen or shows signs of infection seek medical help as soon as possible.
Cat scratches pose a slight risk as they might well lead to “scratch fever” which results in a temperature and swelling around lymph glands. It’s less worrisome in adults but if a child has a scratch from a cat and it bleeds, it’s best to get it checked out. Always wash scratches and bites immediately and never let your cat lick an open wound.
You may well have heard of ‘cat scratch disease’, also known as Bartonellosis. It is more likely that a kitten would infect you with this, rather than a fully grown cat. The bacteria of this virus infects the walls of human blood vessels – this has the same symptoms as cat scratch – but it will take up to 5 months for the body to recover. All in all, it’s the same thing.
Ringworm is rarely caught from cats but there is still a possibility. Rather than an illness, it’s a fungus that resembles one or two circular areas of reddened, itchy skin. Cats with ringworm usually have areas of hair loss with a crusty like surface but some cats don’t show any signs. It’s more common in kittens, old cats and long-haired varieties. If you think you or your children have ringworm, then you should see a doctor.
As far as worms, they are more commonplace in kittens because they often catch roundworms from their mother’s milk. It’s possible that humans can become infected if they swallow an egg. There are risks, such as eye damage so you must be especially careful washing hands and changing litter trays. Get your cat regularly wormed, it’s best to treat your cat four times a year or more if you’ve had a previous problem. If you have a kitten, it must be wormed every two weeks from week 6 to week 16.
The micro-organism Toxoplasma gondii is sometimes present in cats. Generally, it does not harm your pet, but it can cause illness when the eggs are accidentally eaten. Eggs are passed through cat faeces and as long as you conduct good hygiene it is unlikely that you would ever become infected. However, there is a great deal of advice against pregnant women owning a cat, because Toxoplasmosis is very dangerous to unborn babies. So, if you do have a cat and you are pregnant you need to exercise extreme caution when it comes to preparing food and you must wash your hands very regularly.
You should also avoid changing your cat’s litter tray (get someone else to do it, if you have to do it, always wear disposable gloves and wash hands afterwards). It’s best not to own a kitten whilst pregnant as they are more likely to have the micro-organism present.
A bacterial infection which causes severe abdominal pain and is transmitted very easily between cats and humans. Do not immediately assume it is your cat if you contract it, it could be infected chickens that are undercooked, or other types of meat, and even water and milk if it has not been correctly pasteurised. Nasty symptoms occur, such as severe diarrhoea which may contain mucus and blood. Dehydration frequently occurs, so plenty of water is essential.
There are other diseases that can be caught from your cat, but the majority of these have no confirmed scientific reports to prove that your cat may have contaminated you, and generally speaking, they relate to ‘wild’ cats, who have had more exposure to other wild animals.
Overall, there are no real dangers to owning a cat as long as you do maintain meticulous hygiene in your home and make sure you and your children as well as your cat are clean and healthy.
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