Can Your Cat Get Sick From Killing Mice? The Surprising Answer


Cats and mice have had an adversarial relationship for thousands of years. This comes as no surprise, as cats are excellent hunters and mice make for easy prey. In fact, cats are so effective at hunting mice that having a cat in your home can significantly reduce or even eliminate a mouse problem. However, this leaves many cat owners wondering – can cats catch diseases from mice when they catch and kill them?

The short answer is yes, cats absolutely can contract diseases from mice under certain circumstances. Mice can carry a number of dangerous bacteria, parasites, and viruses that may be transmitted to cats during the hunting and killing process. While the risk is relatively low, particularly for indoor cats, it’s important for cat owners to understand what diseases can be spread, how to identify signs of illness, and how to protect both their cat’s health and their own.

Diseases Cats Can Catch from Mice

There are several dangerous diseases that cats can catch from hunting and killing infected mice, including toxoplasmosis, typhus, plague, and tapeworms.


Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that mice and rats can carry. Cats typically get infected by ingesting the parasite by eating infected mice. Once infected, most cats don’t show symptoms but the parasite remains dormant in their bodies. Pregnant women should be careful handling litter boxes of cats that hunt mice since toxoplasmosis can be harmful to a developing baby. Source


Murine typhus is caused by Rickettsia typhi bacteria and spread by infected fleas that live on mice and rats. When cats hunt rodents, they risk getting bitten by fleas carrying the disease. Symptoms include fever, rash, headache, chills, and muscle pain. Without prompt treatment, typhus can lead to serious complications. Source


The plague is a severe bacterial illness transmitted by fleas that have fed on infected rodents. Cats can get the plague if they get bitten by an infected flea while hunting or eating rodents. Plague causes high fever, swollen lymph nodes, chills, weakness, and can be deadly without antibiotics. Source


Rodents often carry tapeworms in their intestine or tissues. When a cat eats an infected rodent, they ingest the tapeworm larvae which then grow into adults inside the cat’s intestines. Tapeworms cause digestive issues and can become serious if they continue reproducing. There are treatments to eliminate tapeworms in cats. Source


Toxoplasmosis is caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. Cats typically get infected by eating infected rodents, birds, or other small animals. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, toxoplasmosis is one of the most common parasitic diseases and has been found in nearly all warm-blooded animals, including pets and humans (source).

In most cats, a toxoplasmosis infection is asymptomatic. However, in some cases it can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, enlarged lymph nodes, and loss of appetite. More severely, toxoplasmosis may also lead to neurological issues like personality changes, loss of coordination, seizures, and blindness. The parasite can also be transmitted from the mother cat to kittens, potentially causing birth defects, stillbirths, or miscarriages.

While killing and eating infected rodents is the most common route of transmission, cats can also pick up toxoplasmosis from ingesting contaminated soil, water, or the feces of other infected cats. Indoor cats are at a lower risk than outdoor cats that hunt prey. But all cat owners should take precautions to prevent transmission (source).


Typhus is caused by the bacteria Rickettsia typhi, which is carried by fleas that live on infected rodents like rats and mice. When a flea bites an infected rodent, it can pick up the bacteria. If the flea then bites a human or cat, the bacteria can be transmitted. According to the CDC, flea-borne typhus is spread to people primarily through contact with infected fleas [1].

Infected cats may develop symptoms including fever, rash, headache, and muscle pain. Murine typhus infection in cats occurs through exposure of skin breaks or abrasions with infectious flea feces according to Merck Veterinary Manual [2]. Prompt treatment is important, as untreated cases of typhus can lead to severe illness or even death in some cases.


Plague is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis and is most commonly transmitted to cats through flea bites, especially fleas associated with rodents like rats or prairie dogs. The bacteria multiplies in the bloodstream of rodents and is passed to fleas that feed on their blood. Cats become infected when bitten by these infected fleas.1

Plague can be deadly for cats if left untreated. Common symptoms include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, and swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck, jaw, and groin areas. Cats may also develop pneumonia or blood infections. Plague leads to sepsis and death if antibiotics are not administered promptly.2

There are no vaccines available for plague in cats. Prevention involves controlling fleas and avoiding contact with infected rodents. Any cats potentially exposed should be monitored closely for symptoms and immediately taken to the veterinarian if illness develops. With prompt treatment, cats have a good chance of surviving feline plague.


One of the most common tapeworms cats can get from eating infected mice is the Dipylidium caninum tapeworm. Cats become infected by ingesting fleas carrying tapeworm larvae. Rodents like mice and rats are common intermediate hosts that harbor flea larvae infected with tapeworms. When a cat grooms itself and swallows an infected flea, the tapeworm is released inside the intestines and develops into an adult tapeworm.

An infestation of D. caninum tapeworms can cause digestive issues like diarrhea, vomiting, appetite changes, and weight loss in cats. Tapeworm segments may also be visible in the cat’s feces or around their anus. Since tapeworms feed off partially digested food inside the intestinal tract, heavy infestations can rob a cat of vital nutrients leading to vitamin deficiencies and anemia.

To diagnose tapeworms, a veterinarian will look for worm segments or eggs under a microscope when examining the cat’s stool. Tapeworms are readily treated with a deworming medication like praziquantel. Prevention involves regular flea control and preventing cats from hunting and eating wild rodents which may harbor tapeworm infected fleas.

Preventing Transmission

There are several ways cat owners can help prevent the transmission of diseases from mice and other rodents to cats:

Treating cats regularly for fleas and ticks using veterinarian-recommended prevention products can help block disease transmission by these insects (CDC). Monthly topical treatments, as well as flea and tick collars, can control these potential vectors.

Cats should also receive regular deworming treatments to prevent tapeworms from rodent ingestion. Broad-spectrum dewormers are effective at killing tapeworms and other intestinal parasites (Texas A&M Vet Med). This helps break the parasite life cycle and reduce environmental contamination.

Keeping cats indoors prevents them from catching and eating wild rodents. Cats can enjoy stimulation indoors through interactive toys, climbing structures and playtime. Windows with birdfeeders outside provide entertainment (AMDRO).

Safely disposing of any rodents removes the temptation for cats to play with them. Wearing gloves, place dead rodents in sealed plastic bags then into the outdoor garbage. Clean any rodent droppings with disinfectant (CDC). This helps prevent environmental contamination.

Signs of Illness

Cats can show a variety of concerning signs and symptoms if they contract a disease from mice, including:

  • Lethargy – Lack of energy and appearing generally unwell is a common sign of illness in cats. Diseases from mice often cause lethargy.
  • Fever – An elevated body temperature is a key sign of infection. Fevers over 103°F warrant urgent veterinary care.
  • Swollen lymph nodes – Lymph nodes may become enlarged as the body fights infection. This can occur around the jaw, legs, neck or other areas.
  • Digestive issues – Vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite are possible if a cat ingests harmful microbes. Intestinal parasites also cause digestive upset.
  • Neurological problems – Diseases like toxoplasmosis can lead to neurological issues like lack of coordination, head tilt or seizures in some cases.

If a cat exhibits any concerning symptoms after catching mice, take them to a vet immediately. Early treatment is key for full recovery.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If a cat is showing signs of illness after hunting or eating mice, it’s important to take them to the veterinarian for an exam and testing. The vet will take the cat’s history, including any exposure to rodents, and perform a physical exam looking for symptoms. They may run various diagnostic tests depending on the suspected diseases, including:

  • Blood tests checking for anemia, organ issues, or antibodies to certain pathogens
  • Fecal examination to check for parasites
  • PCR tests to detect DNA evidence of infectious organisms
  • Chest x-rays if respiratory disease is suspected

Treatment will depend on the specific illness diagnosed. Bacterial infections like plague are treated with antibiotics like doxycycline or enrofloxacin. Anti-parasitics like fenbendazole or praziquantel can eliminate worms or protozoa. Supportive care with fluids, vitamins, and nutrition may also be necessary. Prompt veterinary care is vital for sick cats to prevent serious complications or death from diseases contracted from mice.


In summary, while the risk is generally low, cats can contract several dangerous diseases from mice, including toxoplasmosis, typhus, plague, and tapeworms. These illnesses can cause serious symptoms and even be fatal if left untreated. Prevention through keeping cats indoors, using flea and tick control, deworming, and vaccinating for distemper is key.

If a cat develops concerning signs like lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, or unexplained weight loss after catching mice, prompt veterinary care is essential. With testing and treatment, the prognosis for most mouse-transmitted diseases is good. While the hunting instinct is strong in cats, owners must weigh the risks and try to limit their cat’s contact with wild rodents. Stopping transmission protects both feline and human health.

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