August 8th is #InternationalCatDay -invented by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2002 to raise awareness of best practice in cat welfare. I think days like this also allow us the opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of parasites in both human and animal health. As a human I am interested in keeping healthy by not being infected by parasites from cats, so I have put together this short guide for anyone else who is at all concerned about the kinds of diseases you can contract from these popular pet animals. Hopefully at least one of them will work for you. I know which one I prefer.
De-worm your cat regularly
This will remove the common roundworm infections that can cause visceral larval migrans (worm larvae crawling about under your skin), ocular larval migrans (worm larvae crawling about your eyeball) and salmonellosis (gut pain, diarrhoea etc). Target infections: Toxocara cati, Ancylostoma, Salmonella.
Buy a collar with a bell and make sure your cat wears it
Many of the diseases that can affect you and your cat are found in wildlife populations because they are zoonotic. If you let your cat eat wildlife such as birds and small rodents, the parasites will be transmitted first to your cat, and then to yourself. Target infections: Toxocara cati, Ancyolostoma, rabies, Toxoplasma.
De-flea your cat regularly
There are several diseases transmitted to humans from cats that originally land on the cat via the bite of a flea. The flea itself is an ectoparasite. You can’t stop fleas from biting your cat unless you wrap it in a flea-proof barrier, but you can control flea populations and reduce the risk. Target infection: Bartonella.
Don’t touch your cat with bare hands, or let it go anywhere near your face
Cats love to lick themselves for personal hygiene reasons, and when they feel like it will demonstrate some level of affection to their owner. They can pick up sticky parasite eggs on their tongue and transfer them to you. If you get them on your fingers, they will stay there until you put your fingers in your mouth. You are more likely to do this if you are a child, when inebriated, or otherwise distracted. Target infections: anything that lives in the cat’s gut
Never let your cat out of your sight
Most infections are transferred to cats when they are out and about doing cat-like things that involves eviscerating other, smaller animals. If you keep your cat indoors, or at least on a lead when outdoors, you minimise the risk. Target infections: everything.
Get rid of your cat
If all else fails and you feel you need total protection from all cat-related parasites then there is only one solution. Well, two actually. Either don’t buy a cat in the first place (yes, I know they have therapeutic//internet-meme qualities), or donate your cat to someone who doesn’t worry about the risks or the vet bills. Target infections: N/A – you don’t have a cat.
I am an epidemiologist based at a UK Higher Education establishment (Durham University, if you are interested). My research interests are primarily within the domain of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). I believe that the only way we can effectively tackle complex problems affecting populations living in tropics and sub-tropics is through trans-disciplinary collaboration. My working definition of transdisciplinary is undertaking research alongside so-called 'stakeholders' - groups and individuals who do not call themselves 'researchers' but whose experiences and knowledge can be used to great effect when combined with the experiences and knowledge of the research community. You can read my online CV at the link below.