Can I Drink After My Cat? The Surprising Truth About Sharing Germs With Your Feline

Introduction

Pet ownership is at an all-time high, with over 48 million households in the United States owning at least one dog and over 31 million owning at least one cat. As our furry friends become more and more a part of our families, it’s natural to wonder about the health implications of sharing food, utensils, and other items. Specifically, can drinking from the same glass or bottle as your cat make you sick? This is an important question for the over 86 million pet-owning households to consider.

Health Risks

Cats can spread diseases to humans through saliva when they lick things. One concerning disease is toxoplasmosis, which is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Cats can become infected with toxoplasmosis by eating infected rodents, birds or other small animals. The parasite is then shed in the cat’s feces. Humans can contract toxoplasmosis by inadvertently ingesting infected feces, such as through contaminated food or contact with contaminated soil (1).

Bacteria like Bartonella henselae, the cause of cat scratch disease, can also be spread through a cat’s saliva. Cat scratch disease is generally benign in humans, causing swollen lymph nodes, fever, and fatigue. More severe complications like encephalitis are possible in immunocompromised individuals (2).

Parasites like hookworms and roundworms can also be shed in a cat’s saliva and ingested by humans, leading to parasitic infections. Proper deworming of cats can help reduce this risk (3).

Overall, good hygiene like washing hands after petting cats and proper handling of cat litter can help mitigate risks. Avoiding contact with a cat’s saliva and being aware of potential disease transmission routes are also important preventative steps.

Mitigating Risks

There are several ways to help mitigate the risks of contracting an illness from a cat:

Wash any dishes, cups, or containers thoroughly before use if a cat has access to them. Cats can spread bacteria and parasites through their saliva. Properly washing containers helps remove germs.

Practice proper handwashing after touching cats, cleaning litter boxes, or handling cat food or treats. The CDC recommends washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. This helps remove germs that could potentially make you sick.

Try to keep cats away from food preparation areas like countertops and tables. Cats can shed bacteria and parasites which can contaminate surfaces. Keeping cats away from areas where you prepare human food reduces risk.

Taking precautions like washing hands and surfaces can help mitigate risks when living with a cat. While it’s unlikely to get seriously ill from a household cat, basic hygiene goes a long way.

When to Avoid

Certain groups of people are at higher risk for illness and should avoid consuming drinks that cats have licked. This includes:

Those with weakened immune systems: People with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, transplant recipients taking immunosuppressant drugs, and people with autoimmune disorders should be especially cautious. Their weakened immune defenses make them more susceptible to infections that could be present in cat saliva (CDC).

Infants and young children: Babies and young children have still-developing immune systems, putting them at higher risk. Their natural curiosity and tendency to put things in their mouths also increase chances of infection from contaminated drinks. Parents and caregivers should be vigilant (Blue Cross).

The elderly: Older adults tend to have weaker immune systems and more health problems, making them more susceptible to illnesses transferred from cats. Seniors should take extra care to avoid drinking from containers cats have accessed (Cornell).

Pet Owner Tips

It’s important to train your cat not to lick or try to eat human food or drinks. This can help prevent the spread of bacteria and parasites. Here are some tips for training cats not to lick human food or drinks:

Set clear rules that human food surfaces like plates and utensils are off-limits, even if no food is present. Be consistent in enforcing these rules by removing your cat anytime they try licking food or dishes (1). Using positive reinforcement like treats can help your cat learn quicker.

Feed your cat before you sit down to eat, so they are not as motivated to beg for your food. Keep them entertained in another room while you’re eating if necessary (2).

Avoid rewarding begging behavior by never sharing table scraps. Cats will repeat behaviors that get rewarded.

Store human food securely out of your cat’s reach, like in high cabinets they cannot access (3).

Regular veterinary care and parasite prevention for your cat is also important. An annual fecal test can check for intestinal parasites like Toxoplasma that can spread to humans. Keep your cat indoors and use monthly flea/tick prevention to reduce risk.

Professional Advice

According to Dr. Sarah Nold, a veterinarian with over 15 years of experience, there are some risks associated with drinking after a cat.

“While the risks are low, cats can transmit certain bacteria and parasites through their saliva that may cause illness if ingested by humans,” says Dr. Nold. “Bacteria such as Pasteurella, Capnocytophaga, and Campylobacter are commonly found in the mouths of cats and can potentially cause infection if a person drinks contaminated liquid.”

Dr. Nold recommends taking precautions if a cat licks a drink container before it’s consumed. “Ideally, wash the container thoroughly before using it again. You can also rinse your mouth or brush your teeth after a cat licks your face or lips, just to be safe.”

Overall though, she emphasizes not being too alarmed. “Healthy people may experience some mild stomach upset at worst. The main concern is for immunocompromised individuals who are at higher risk for infection.”

Dr. Nold concludes, “Simply use good judgment when it comes to hygiene around pets, especially cats. While it’s rare to get seriously ill, taking basic precautions is sensible.”

Common Sense

In most cases, the risk of getting sick from sharing a water glass with a cat is fairly low for healthy adults. Cats generally have a very low rate of transmitting diseases to humans. However, there are some risks to consider.

According to Dr. Chris Miller, a veterinarian writing for the Washingtonian, drinking after a cat is “very unlikely to cause any significant health concerns.”

https://www.washingtonian.com/2014/12/03/ask-a-vet-can-my-cat-get-me-sick/

Cats’ mouths do contain bacteria, and in rare cases, this bacteria can cause illness if ingested by humans. Kittens, elderly cats, outdoor cats, and cats with compromised immune systems may pose slightly higher risks.

However, it’s still best to err on the side of caution. Most experts recommend using separate drinking containers for pets and humans. This reduces any small risk of transmitting diseases like toxoplasmosis or campylobacteriosis.

When to Seek Help

Signs of infection warrant medical care. Cat bites often puncture deep into the skin, driving bacteria deeper than other animal bites. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, cat bite wounds become infected up to 50% of the time if left untreated. Look for increasing pain, swelling, redness, warmth at the bite site, red streaks, pus, fever or other flu-like symptoms. Seek medical care promptly if any of these infection warning signs develop.

Vulnerable groups should contact a doctor with concerns. People with weakened immune systems, diabetes, chronic illnesses, or who are very young or elderly should always consult a physician about potential cat saliva exposure. Even if the wound appears minor, the CDC advises contacting a doctor to determine if antibiotic treatment is recommended. Some doctors may prescribe antibiotics as a precaution for high-risk individuals after a cat bite.

The Bottom Line

In summary, while the risks from a cat licking you are generally low, there are some precautions you should take:

Avoid letting your cat lick any open wounds or scratches. The bacteria in their saliva can cause infections.

Don’t let cats lick your face, and be sure to wash your hands after petting cats.

Pregnant women, infants, young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems should use extra caution and avoid a cat’s saliva contacting broken skin or being ingested.

Keep your cat healthy with regular vet visits, parasite control, and vaccinations to reduce potential transmission risks.

While the risks are small, contact your doctor if you develop any concerning symptoms after a cat has licked you, such as fever, joint pain or rash.

With some simple precautions, you can safely enjoy affection from feline companions while minimizing any health risks.

References

While this article provided a general overview of the topic for pet owners, there are many more in-depth resources available for further reading:

CDC: If You Have Pets

AVMA: Pets and Infectious Diseases

ASPCA: Zoonotic Diseases

WebMD Slideshow: Pets and Human Illness

CDC: Healthy Pets, Healthy People Publications

Consult with your veterinarian for professional advice specific to your pet’s health and risks.

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