I caught it from the cat: New report updates the many ways that cats can make us sick

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people are spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people are spread from animals.

Those animals include cats.

That’s why the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) released updated Feline Zoonoses Guidelines to the veterinary community earlier this month as part of its ongoing mission to provide accurate information about feline zoonotic diseases to pet owners, physicians, and veterinarians.

Zoonotic diseases are defined as being common to, shared by, or naturally transmitted between humans and other vertebrate animals.

This version of the report builds upon the AAFP’s first Feline Zoonosis Panel Report published in 2003 and focuses on new information published since then. It also includes an updated reference list and recommendations on the prevention and treatment of feline zoonotic diseases.

To find out more about what’s changed, NEWStat reached out to Michael Lappin, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, professor of infectious disease at Colorado State University’s (CSU) Veterinary Teaching Hospital and chair of the panel that produced the report.

Lappin told NEWStat that there’s been a lot of new research and that we’ve learned many new things about zoonotic diseases since the 2003 report came out. Perhaps the most important is our understanding of the Bartonella species of bacteria, which can cause cat scratch fever and other illnesses. Lappin said it’s the feline zoonotic disease agent that people are most commonly exposed to. “This agent is transmitted by fleas, which is why it is so important to control these parasites,” he added.

The topic is addressed at length in the new report, and was also the subject of a special 2006 AAFP panel report.

Among feline zoonotic diseases, Toxoplasma gondii, commonly found in undercooked meat, remains a major concern—the oocysts passed in cat feces can live in the environment for months, Lappin said. “[That’s] why it’s so important to cook meat and to wash produce and your hands after handling meat or soil and after cleaning the litter box.”

Specific diseases aside, Lappin stresses that the primary message of the reports is still the same: “If your cat is sick, see your veterinarian and seek [their] advice on optimal parasite control.”

Another key message is the importance of cooperation between caregivers: “Your veterinarian and your physician would love to interact together to keep your family safe and make logical choices about pet ownership.”

As for what feline zoonotic diseases clients really need to worry about, Lappin said that all of the infectious agents discussed in the report are important in specific situations, “but if your cat is healthy, being dewormed, and being administered flea and tick control, risks are minimal.”

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