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My Cat Licks Me --- Top 7 Health Dangers

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October 24, 2016

By ARIADNE WEINBERG, Featured Columnist



There are few people who know better the temptations of extreme affection with felines than us: the crazy cat people. And it's sometimes a two-way street. Cats like to give kisses, and sometimes they get carried away and dole out some love bites.

Kitties are relatively hygienic compared to humans, but if you think of the things they do all day, especially hunting and bringing in dead rodents, or hacking up hairballs, it gets you to thinking. In a cat mouth there are 130 disease carrying microbes. That leaves a lot of potential for damage.

While cats have a lot of cool things going for them too, like marking you with their scent (a sign of love and status) by rubbing up against you, or sensing pheromones through their mouth, they've also got a few dangers packed in that fuzzy, feline exterior.

If you follow precautions like washing your hands after cuddling with your kitty and getting her wormed and vaccinated, chances are you'll stay safe.

However, I'm here to let you know the possible dangers associated with a domestic relationship with your cat.









  1. Cat Scratch Fever

While it sounds like a sexy disco song, it is none too glamorous.

If your cat licks your open wound or if that saliva touches your eye, you're not in for much of a treat. Often a bump or blister will occur near the site, and then a myriad of symptoms could show up, including fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes near the site, and sometimes a loss of appetite, weight loss, or a sore throat.

The good news is that usually it will heal up on its own; sometimes antibiotics are required. The bad news, according to the Center for Disease Control, is that it's pretty common.

40% of cats carry B. Henselae (the official name for cat scratch) at some point in their life.

If you have a kitten, be sure to be especially careful, as it's more likely to occur with kittens under one year old, who as well as licking your hands, will also probably give a few love bites, upping the chances for transmission.

Cats themselves usually get it from flea bites and dirts getting into wounds, so make sure you de-flea your beloved felines.

2. Giardia

These are little protozoa critters that live in contaminated soil and water and cause diarrhea in pets and humans.

Donna Solomon, a veterinarian at the Animal Medical Center of Chicago, says she sees this two times a day, in her practice.

While that figure includes a mix of dogs and cats, it's still pretty striking. Giardia is present in 4% of cats in the U.S. It can still be spread by saliva, given cats grooming habit of licking their butts.

You'll possibly have giardia if you feel nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, bloating abdominal pain, weight loss, or gas. Ouch.

In contrast to cat scratch disease, you are more likely to be at risk from older cats. According to a 2015 study by R. Young at Murdoch University in Western Australia, cats who are more than six-years-old are much more prone to it than kittens less than six months old.

3. Rabies

This is not the most common of possibilities, but if you do get it, you're out of luck.

So, keep up to date with your vaccinations. According to the Johns Hopkins Health Library information, symptoms of rabies include fever, headache, decreased appetite, and vomiting. In the second stage, you could have difficulty swallowing, become agitated or disoriented, become paralyzed, go into a coma, or die. Yikes!

Symptoms in cats are pretty parallel, so if you see any change in behavior in your cat or any aggression, make sure to visit the vet to find out.

According to T. Frymus from the European Advisory Board of Cat diseases, the virus will shed in saliva before any chemical signs, and the incubation period is usually two months, although it can range from two weeks to several years.

In his 2009 report, Frymus recommends getting kittens vaccinated at 12 to 16 weeks and then again at one year. Usually the vaccines last up to three years. Make sure both you and your kitty keep up with shots, to mutually protect one another.

4. Toxoplasmosis

With toxoplasmosis, you may just think you have the flu, because it starts with flu-like symptoms of sweating and chills. When you are pregnant and you suspect you might have toxoplasmosis, it might especially be an issue, given that it may cause stillbirth or miscarriage.

Luckily, K. Hartman from the European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases confirmed in 2013 that, while toxoplasmosis was common in cats, the clinical disease is rare. 50% of cats have antibodies showing infection and cystic stages.

However, toxoplasmosis usually only manifests when cats are immunosuppressed, and shows up in their muscles, eyes, and lungs. There is a small window of time to when humans can be infected, which is 3-10 days after the ingestion of tissue cysts.

That being said, there have been multiple outbreaks of toxoplasmosis linked to cats.

One, in Nova Scotia in 1992, revealed that the rural population may be more at risk. L.H. Pereira from Dalhousie University looked at 998 children between 7 months and 17 years old, who attended the hospital diagnostic center in Halifax. They were tested for the toxoplasma gondii antibody. There was a 5.2% prevalence rate in rural children, and a 1.1% rate in urban children.

Cat ownership was associated to toxoplasma amongst rural but not urban children. Rural children with more than one cat were two times more likely to have it than those who had just one cat and three times more likely to have it than those with no cats.

Other cases have been reported, and further evaluation is required, but it's something to be careful for. Always wash your hands, and clean your kitty's litter box with gloves and then more soap afterwards, as well as avoiding intimate cat kisses.

5. Roundworms

Yep, even these little suckers can be passed along. My cat housemate recently had roundworms, and luckily, after taking medicine for them, she's alright.

So far, none of us other residents have been affected (fingers crossed). Roundworms can be spread in many ways: in addition to saliva, they can be spread through scratches, feces, and urine.

Roundworm eggs tend to accumulate when cats defecate, and can cause health problems as serious as blindness. 10,000 children a year are infected with roundworms. Toxocara cati, the variety felines contract, soaks up nutrients from the cat's system.

When transmitted to humans, roundworms can cause a cough, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, and blood in the stool.

Free roaming could be a risk factor for cats, according to a 2016 study by R. Nijsse at the Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Researchers found that the more time a cat was allowed to roam outdoors, the more likely that feline was to shed toxocara, compared to those without outdoor access. In any case, definitely worm your meow-meow beasts, whether they are outdoor or indoor kitties.

6. Streptococcus and Various Bacteria

Cat tongues are not clean.  Felines have a whole heck of a lot of stuff in their saliva, and depending on their hygiene and hunting habits, some of that could be dangerous.

A 2015 report from E.G. Goldstein reveals a few things that could be floating around. In the camp of aerobic bacteria: pasteurella, streptococcus, and staphylococcus. In the anaerobic corner: Fusobacterium, porphyromonas, and bacteroides. Not anything you really want in an open cut.

7. Campylobacter

This name sounds a bit like a mad scientist who will do terrible things to you, but actually, it's another face-licking danger. The symptoms of campylobacter, when they get to humans, are that of diarrhea. Not the worst, but certainly not the best.

Campylobacter is generally more common in kittens. A 2005 study from J.B. Bender from the University of St. Paul showed that c. upsaliensis (it's latin name) was identified in the feces of overtly healthy kittens in the U.S. 




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