If you thought your cat was simply showing their affection whenever they give you a lick, think again. Of all the things they’re passing on, their love is probably the least of it. As news.com.au reports, at least one person a week visits hospital after suffering an adverse reaction to a cat’s lick… and that’s just in one city in Australia alone. The latest victim of too much kitty-love is an 80-year-old grandmother from Melbourne, who in heartbreaking circumstances was found unresponsive in bed with her cat Minty curled beside her. It was found that Minty had scratcher her devoted owner before sealing the deal with a lick – the open wound allowed bacteria from the cat’s saliva to enter the bloodstream, leading to a case of bacterial meningitis that sadly, proved fatal. Her family confirmed that the woman had woken to spend a few moments with them after falling into a coma, but by then, the damage was too great. She died the day after being taken off life support.
Sadly, the case isn’t an isolated incident. Over the past few years, infectious disease departments of hospitals have experienced an ever-growing number of patient’s being admitted after exposure to cat’s saliva, a breeding ground for such lethal bacteria as Pasteurella that can result in everything from heart disease to blindness, meningitis to Bartonella. The problem has become so significant that medical experts are warning those with weakened immune systems to keep well away from cats altogether. “It is a big deal and it is emerging more and more now as an unrecognized cause of heart valve infection, which is obviously fatal if untreated,” Prof Grayson told the Herald Sun via the Daily Mail. “Infections related to cat bites and scratches like this person, we’d get at least one a week where somebody comes into the hospital. “It is very important that if a cat is biting or scratching you, you mention it to your GP,” he went on to say. “It immediately triggers a greater concern and a different medical approach to just a routine scratch.”
What Bacteria Can Spread Through Cat’s Saliva?
So, what exactly can you expect if your kitty gives you a little lick? In most cases, nothing at all. Cats are one of the most popular types of pets to own, and ultimately, very few of us will suffer any adverse reaction to their affections. But while maintaining a healthy sense of perspective is important, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stay vigilant. As pets.thenest.com reports, a few of the more serious effects that can come about as a result of exposure to cat saliva include:
Most diseases can’t be transmitted between humans and animals… hence the reason you can sneeze as much as want in front of your pet without worrying about passing on any nasty cold or flu bugs. But somethings can be passed between species, especially if the individuals involved already have a weakened immune system. These cross-species infections are known as Zoonotic Diseases, and while your cat is unlikely to pass on many, the few that they do have potentially lethal consequences. Case in point – ‘cat-scratch disease’, a type of infection caused by a bacterium found in flea feces. The infection happens after your cat accidentally imbibes flea feces while grooming. The bacteria from the feces enters their saliva, as well as becoming lodged under their claws. If they scratch you, they can pass on that same bacteria to you. If they lick you after scratching you, we’re looking at double-trouble. Salmonellosis is another bacterial illness that can be transferred, although it’s typically only something to worry about if your cat has a diet that’s high in raw meat.
If you thought the only way you could catch rabies was through a dog bite, think again. If an infected cat’s saliva manages to get into your bloodstream via an infected wound, your eyes, or your mouth, you could be at risk. And don’t think you’re safe just because your cat is a-symptomatic. It can take up to seven months after the point of infection for them to start showing symptoms of the disease– plenty of time for them to share the ‘love’ without you having even the vaguest idea of what awaits.
Parasites might not be pathogens in the strictest sense of the word, but the havoc they reek is just as damaging. A cat’s saliva can carry both roundworm eggs and mono-celled protozoa – get either of these two nasties into your bloodstream, and you’re really going to feel it.
You can’t always stop a cat from scratching you. Neither can you stop one from giving you the occasional lick. What you can do is stay attuned to the possible complications that can arise from either one. The first step in preventing the risk of infectious diseases passing between you and your cat is to ensure they’re up-to-date with their latest vaccinations. Rabies is 100% preventable… providing, of course, you keep up with regular vaccines. Similarly, roundworm and other parasites can be easily avoided by following a regular de-worming routine – something that’s especially important if your cat is allowed outside or you feed them a home-cooked diet.
Even if you’re vigilant with vaccines, always take care to follow basic hygiene advice. This means never sharing food from the same bowl, and (lest it needs to be said) never drinking from any vessel that they’ve sipped from.
Wash your hand thoroughly after any contact with your cat (something that’s especially important if you have a weakened immune system) and always wash and disinfect any cat scratches or bites as soon as they happen, no matter how minor they might seem. If a scratch breaks your skin or you have a compromised immune system, don’t be shy of seeking immediate medical assistance – the sooner a problem is identified and treated, the less chance of anything serious happening.