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6 Diseases You Can’t Catch from a Cat

Here's what you don't have to worry about in terms of catching kitty's viruses and bacteria.

 |  Apr 18th 2014  |   20 Contributions


It seems like there’s always some new hype about the latest horrific disease you can catch from your cat, but the fact is that very few diseases can pass back and forth between humans and felines, and most of those that can are caused by parasites. As far as viruses and bacteria go, though, you’re almost certainly safe from catching kitty’s germs. Here are a few diseases and conditions you don’t have to worry about while handling your cat.

1. A cold

The viruses that cause kitty colds are very specific to cats and cannot survive in the human body. Although certain flu bugs such as H1N1 can on rare occasions pass back and forth between cats and people, any type of “common cold” virus is not transmissible from cats to humans.

2. AIDS

The feline immunodeficiency virus (sometimes referred to as “feline AIDS”) is not contagious to humans. Although it is related to the human immunodeficiency virus, it is species-specific and cannot in any way be spread from cats to humans. If you or someone you know is living with HIV, you might be glad to know that cats can’t catch HIV, either.

"I could rub all over you like this and I still wouldn't give you mange!" CC-BY-SA Merri via Flickr

3. Mange

Although humans can get a skin infection called scabies -- which, like mange, is caused by a mite -- the types of mange mites you find on your cat cannot thrive on human skin. According to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Health Service, feline mange mites may cause a mild itch that goes away quickly as the mites die off.

4. Leukemia

Feline leukemia is caused by a virus specific to cats and is not at all related to the human blood and bone marrow cancer known as leukemia. Although feline leukemia is known to cause cancer in cats, it does not cause cancer in humans. End of statement.

Poor kitty just got his ear mite medicine. Good think we'll never have to give ourselves ear mite drops! Photo CC-BY-ND Lisa Larsson

5. Hand-foot-and-mouth disease

Although hand-foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious between people, it cannot be transmitted from animals to people. If your child comes back from a friend’s house with the disease, don’t blame the cat!

6. Ear mites

These nasty little pests make their home in waxy deposits in your cat’s ear canal. You might think that because we humans also have wax in our ear canals, the mites might spread to us if we sleep near an infected cat, but that’s not true. Ear mites are species-specific to dogs and cats and don’t thrive in human ears. Also, human ear canals are short and straight, while cats’ ear canals are L-shaped and may provide a warmer and moister environment for the mites.

Go ahead and snuggle those kitties! Don't be afraid; you'll live. Most of the top feline nasties are species-specific and cannot live on or in humans. Photo CC-BY-SA fletcherjcm via Flickr

Are there any feline illnesses you’d like to learn more about? Do you want to know if your cats can get germs from you? I really want to put my science nerd hat back on, so leave a comment telling me what you want to know and I’ll answer your questions.

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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