Health Topics

Cat-associated Zoonoses

Zoonotic diseases are diseases that are transmissible from living animals to people. They can be caused by a variety of agents, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, parasites, and prions and can be spread in a variety of ways including saliva, scratches, feces, urine, aerosols, urine, and vectors.

There are a variety of zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted by or be associated with cats. Perhaps one of the most important one of these is toxoplasmosis, which is of particular concern to pregnant women.

Information on many of the cat-associated zoonotic diseases can be found at the Centers for Disease Control website: http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/cats.html or the Cornell Center for Animal Resources and Education website: https://www.research.cornell.edu/care/documents/OHS/zoonosis_information_sheet_cats.pdf.

These websites will give you information on the various pathogens that are involved, how the disease is transmitted, signs to watch for, and prevention. It is interesting to note that, in some cases, cats carrying some of these pathogens may show no clinical signs of infection and may still be able to transmit a disease to people.

Although the incidence of many of these diseases is quite small in this area, taking the time to be informed is still a good method of protecting yourself from some potentially serious diseases. For further information on zoonotic diseases, please contact your veterinarian.


Toxoplasmosis gondii is one of the most common of the cat zoonoses. Cats can become infected by eating infected birds, rodents, or other small animals. The organism is then passed in the cat's feces. People can become infected through contact with litterboxes, contaminated soil and water, and through ingestion of undercooked meat. Infection with this organism just before, or during pregnancy can lead to serious symptoms in the child later in life. Excellent information on this zoonotic disease, including how to protect yourself can be found at the following website addresses: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/pregnant.html and http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/prevent.html