Some cat owners might have noticed themselves catching the cold after their cats have caught the cold. In most cases, this should be a coincidence. It is possible for such a pathogen to spread from a cat to a cat owner, but the chances of it happening are very, very low. Combined with the fact that there are a lot more human cold viruses than there are either cat cold viruses or dog cold viruses, this means that it is likelier for the cat owner to have caught their cold from a human than from a cat. With that said, a very, very low chance is not the same as no chance whatsoever, which is something that interested individuals might want to keep in mind.
Why Does Cross-Species Transmission Happen Anyways?
It isn’t uncommon for pathogens to move from one species to another. However, there are some factors that increase the chances of this happening. For example, a closer relationship between the two species increases the chances that a problem for one species can become a problem for the other species because more similarities make for an easier transmission. This doesn’t mean that a pathogen from one species can’t be transmitted to a very different species, just that it lowers the chances of success for said process.
Likewise, the more time that one species spends in close contact with another species, the higher the chances of a successful transmission as well because more time means more opportunities for a pathogen to spread from one species to another. As such, it is no coincidence that some of the most famous diseases that can be found out there can be traced to domesticated animals as well as other animals that come into frequent contact with human populations. One excellent example can be seen in how there are scientists who suspect that measles might have come from an animal source, not least because of its strong resemblance to the rinderpest that once plagued cattle as well as other even-toed ungulates. Another excellent example is HIV, which is believed to have come from human contact with chimpanzees. On top of this, it should be mentioned that such processes are still happening in recent times, as shown by the media panics over bird flu and swine flu. Granted, neither example managed to be as bad as what the most sensationalist reports were predicting, but the potential for that kind of outcome was there.
Speaking of which, it is important to note that the particular characteristics of a pathogen can have a huge impact on the potential of it transmitting from one species to another as well. For instance, some pathogens are more mutable than others, thus increasing the chances of a variant managing to make the transmission. Moreover, some pathogens have a much, much easier time spreading into their surroundings, which is one more thing that can have a huge effect on whether they can make the leap between species or not.
With that said, it is worth noting that just because a particular pathogen can make the leap from one species to another, it doesn’t mean that it is guaranteed to stick around. Some pathogens are so lethal that they burn themselves out, which isn’t much consolation for those who have been infected but nonetheless ensures that the resulting disease can spread to the rest of the population. In contrast, other pathogens are just not infectious enough to sustain themselves, meaning that whoever managed to get infected by them was just very, very unlucky. Having said this, there are some pathogens that use animals as reservoirs, with an excellent example being the bubonic plague. In short, the bacteria responsible for causing the bubonic plague can be found in animals such as mice, rabbits, prairie dogs, and for some reason, camels, which is why people might have heard news reports of people getting the bubonic plague from time to time. Luckily, developed and even developing countries are much more resilient in this respect than their predecessors, which is why these outbreaks tend to be isolated to a very small number of victims.
Regardless, the important takeaway is that while cat owners can catch the cold from their cats, the chances are against it. As such, they shouldn’t worry about it too much, though they should still keep it in the back of their mind because it is something that can happen.