Nearly 94 million pet cats live in the U.S., according to a 2010 survey by the Humane Society of the United States. Though they may not seem likely vectors for disease, pet owners should be aware of potential health hazards involved with the care of a cat. Armed with the proper knowledge, you can have a long, safe and healthy relationship with your cat.
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E. coli bacteria lives in the intestinal tracts of most warm blooded-mammals, but typically doesn't make them ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For humans, some strains of E. coli cause illness and unpleasant symptoms similar to food poisoning, such as cramping, diarrhoea, and vomiting. E. coli present in animal faeces can spread to humans through ingestion, most commonly through unintentional hand-to-mouth contact. To avoid E. coli exposure, wash your hands thoroughly after any handling of the litter box or its contents.
Outdoor cats risk contracting a parasite called toxoplasma gondii, which also lives in cat faeces and can transfer to a human though ingestion. Most healthy people who encounter the toxoplasma parasite show no symptoms because their immune system suppresses the infection, the CDC reports. However, pregnant women face a serious risk when exposed to the parasite. Infection during pregnancy can lead to birth defects or difficulty in carrying the pregnancy to term. For these reasons, pregnant women should avoid handling or cleaning litter boxes.
Leptospirosis, another bacterial infection that travels from cat to human, spreads through their urine. It can cause a wide range of symptoms in humans, but sometimes none at all. When symptoms do manifest, the CDC says, they range from high fevers and severe headaches, to vomiting and diarrhoea. In the most rare, severe, and untreated cases, death can occur. Leptospirosis passes to humans through ingestion of food or water tainted with urine, or by accidental hand-to-mouth contact after handling litter box contents. As with all health hazards associated with cat urine or faeces, washing your hands after handling or cleaning a litter box provides the most effective method of prevention.
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