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Can Cats Catch Diseases from Goats?

Might a new pet goat be making the family cat sick? It's not likely. But it's possible.

 |  Sep 19th 2012  |   4 Contributions


Here's a query I recently saw in Catster Answers:

My 14-year-old inside/outside cat is suddenly drinking lots of water. We got a goat as a birthday present (kind of as a joke). Can cats get sick from goats? We have already gotten rid of the goat, but Kitty has been drinking lots of water for about a week. Lots of urinating and lots of water consumption. Would a change in food cause that? A disease from the fainting goat? Old age? He is still moving around just fine.

I have examined his body for swelling but have not found any. I plan on taking him to the vet tomorrow. 

Call me a softie, but I want to go on the record that I'm not a fan of using animals as props or jokes. I realize I might be more sensitive than many. I passed up law school to make lousy money helping animals. As a child, I took great offense at the goldfish that were given away as prizes at the county fair, usually to homes not equipped to care for them. So maybe I'm the weird one, but I'm wondering what happened to the goat. And I also don't understand the matter of him fainting.

Kittens and goat by Shutterstock

But I digress from the matter at hand, which is whether the cat is drinking more water (and also producing more urine -- the two go hand-in-hand) as a result of the goat. The answer is probably not.

First, although cats and goats can share diseases (Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter come to mind, and they're all contagious to people as well), it's not likely that an infectious problem is causing the cat's increased thirst and urination. The aforementioned bacteria most frequently cause gastrointestinal problems, not urinary problems. (But see below for a disclaimer and possible exception.)

However, there are plenty of other things that cause cats, especially older cats, to drink more water. In fact, increased thirst is a red flag for veterinarians. If your vet doesn't take interest in this symptom, he probably didn't hear you mention it.

In vet school the residents used to run drills in which the students listed all of the possible causes for increased thirst and urination. I won't list them all here, but some of the most common and important ones are kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism. Most of these conditions develop with age. So, when you ask about diet changes, old age, and goat disease, my money is on old age.

Is there a link to the goat? As I said, it's probably a coincidence. However, cats with borderline diabetes or marginal kidney disease can be tipped over the edge by any sort of stress. So it's not inconceivable that the goat's presence was the straw that broke the metaphorical camel's back. But it's most likely that the camel was overloaded with straw before the goat came into the picture.

Here's the disclaimer: Theoretically, it is possible that a transmissible disease, spread by the goat, is to blame. Goats can carry leptospirosis, which, in theory, could spread to a cat and cause kidney failure with changes in water consumption. Likewise, Salmonella and E. coli can infect the kidneys with the same result, though rarely. These scenarios are not likely, to be sure, but be aware that all of these diseases also can infect and severely sicken or even kill humans.

Tomorrow's vet visit should help to sort out what is going on. I'll bet the goat isn't involved. Nonetheless, this episode presents yet another reason not to give away animals as jokes or pranks.

Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!) 

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