Can Kitty’s Sneezes Make You Ill? The Surprising Truth About Cats Sneezing On Humans

Can Cats Transmit Illnesses to Humans?

Yes, cats can transmit illnesses to humans. Cats can carry bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that can infect people. According to the CDC, there are over 60 diseases that can be passed from cats to humans [1]. Some of the main ways cats spread germs and illnesses to humans include bites, scratches, feces, and sneezing/coughing.

While healthy adults are generally not at high risk for diseases from cats, some groups are more susceptible. The elderly, pregnant women, young children and those who are immunocompromised due to illness or medication have a higher chance of contracting an illness from a cat [2]. This is because their immune systems may not be as strong to fight off infection.

Common Feline Illnesses that Can Infect Humans

While our feline companions provide comfort and joy, they can sometimes transmit illnesses to humans. Some of the most common cat diseases that can spread to humans include:

Ringworm – This fungal skin infection causes ring-shaped, itchy rashes on the skin or scalp. Humans can contract ringworm through direct contact with an infected cat’s skin or fur. Ringworm spreads easily between cats and humans. Treatment typically involves antifungal medication, medicated shampoos, and keeping the affected area clean and dry. (Source)

Toxoplasmosis – This parasitic infection is transmitted through contact with infected cat feces, often when cleaning litter boxes. Toxoplasmosis can cause flu-like symptoms in humans, and complications for pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems. Keeping litter boxes clean, wearing gloves while cleaning, and washing hands afterward can reduce risk. There are also medications to treat toxoplasmosis. (Source)

Campylobacteriosis – Campylobacter bacteria causes diarrhea, cramping, fever, and vomiting in humans. Transmission occurs through contact with infected cat feces or uncooked meat. Proper hand washing and hygiene after handling cats can prevent infection. Antibiotics treat campylobacter in more severe cases. (Source)

Cat Scratch Disease – This bacterial infection stems from cat scratches or bites. It causes swollen lymph nodes, fever, and fatigue. Keeping claws trimmed, avoiding rough play, and promptly cleaning wounds helps prevent cat scratch disease. Doxycycline antibiotics typically treat the infection. (Source)

Salmonellosis – The salmonella bacteria spreads through contaminated food or water, or contact with infected feces. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Proper handling and cooking of raw foods, hand washing, and litter box hygiene reduces transmission risk. Antibiotics treat severe salmonella infections. (Source)

How Cats Spread Germs When They Sneeze

Cats spread germs and illnesses to humans when they sneeze primarily because of the bodily fluids that are expelled. A cat’s sneeze releases a fine spray of saliva droplets and mucus from their nasal passages and upper respiratory tract. This spray contains any infectious organisms the cat may be carrying, such as bacterial, viral or fungal microbes. Respiratory infections like bordetella bronchiseptica are easily spread via sneezing and coughing. Viruses like feline calicivirus are also readily transmitted by sneezing cats. Fungal agents like microsporum canis, which causes ringworm, can be expelled in large amounts when a cat forcefully sneezes. The blast of air from a sneeze propels these infectious agents through the air and onto nearby surfaces. Humans in close proximity are at high risk of contacting the saliva droplets or inhaling the microbes. This exposure can lead to various zoonotic illnesses transmitted from cats to humans.

Risk Factors for Getting Sick

Certain individuals are more likely to get sick from a sneezing cat than others. According to the CDC, groups at higher risk include:

  • People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or taking immunosuppressant medications (
  • The elderly
  • Infants and young children

Not washing your hands after touching a cat and allowing a cat to lick your face or wounds also increases risk. The bacteria and parasites present in a cat’s saliva can lead to infection if introduced into the body through mucous membranes or broken skin.

There is also a risk from undercooked meat if you allow your cat access to raw meat products. Parasites like Toxoplasma gondii can be transmitted through infected meat ( Always cook meat thoroughly to kill any potential pathogens.

Preventing Illness Transmission From Cats

There are several steps cat owners can take to reduce the risk of getting sick from their feline companions:

  • Keep cats indoors. Outdoor access increases exposure to other animals and diseases (Source:
  • Get regular veterinary checkups and ensure cats are up-to-date on vaccinations.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling cats, cleaning the litter box, or touching anything that may be contaminated with feces.
  • Avoid scratches and bites. Cat scratches can transmit bacteria that cause infection.
  • Clean the litter box daily to prevent build up of bacteria.
  • Discourage cats from licking faces. Saliva can transmit bacteria.

By taking simple precautions, cat owners can enjoy the companionship of their pets while minimizing the risk of contracting an illness.

Signs of Illness After Cat Sneezes on You

If you develop symptoms of illness after your cat sneezes directly in your face, there are some common signs to watch out for:

If you develop any concerning symptoms after a cat sneezes on you, especially within 3-10 days, see your doctor. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is important for many feline-associated illnesses.

When to See a Doctor

If you develop concerning symptoms after your cat sneezes on you, it’s important to see a doctor. According to the CDC, you should see a doctor if you experience prolonged flu-like symptoms, skin rashes persisting over 2 weeks, fever over 101°F, difficulty breathing, or bloody stools.

Some key signs that warrant a doctor visit include:

  • Persistent fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches, or fatigue
  • A spreading rash on your skin that lasts more than two weeks (cite:
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Diarrhea containing blood or mucus

These types of symptoms may indicate you’ve contracted a zoonotic disease from your cat. Zoonotic diseases are illnesses that can spread between animals and humans. Some examples include ringworm, salmonella, campylobacter infection, and cat scratch disease.

It’s important not to delay seeking medical care if you have these concerning symptoms after a cat sneezes on you. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious complications from zoonotic diseases.

Testing and Diagnosis for Zoonotic Diseases

If you develop concerning symptoms after a cat sneezes on you, there are several diagnostic tests your doctor may use to determine if you have contracted an illness from the cat:

Your doctor will start with a physical exam looking for any visible signs of infection like skin lesions or rashes. They will also check your vital signs and listen to your breathing.

The doctor will ask about your medical history including any pre-existing conditions, medications, and recent exposures to cats. Details about the cat sneeze incident will be documented.

Blood tests can check for antibodies related to certain feline diseases like cat scratch fever and toxoplasmosis. Abnormal white blood cell counts may indicate infection.

Skin scrapings under the microscope can reveal ringworm fungus or mites if present on the skin’s surface.

A stool sample may be tested for parasitic infections like toxoplasmosis and cryptosporidiosis that can be passed from cats to humans.

If clinical signs and initial testing point to a particular illness, more specialized diagnostic tests may be ordered. Feline upper respiratory tests can identify the specific virus or bacteria involved.

For suspected feline coronavirus, biopsy of affected organs may be needed for a definitive diagnosis.

Treatment Options

If you develop an illness after being sneezed on by a cat, there are various treatment options depending on the specific infection or disease. Here are some common medications and treatments:

Antibiotics such as amoxicillin or doxycycline may be prescribed for bacterial infections like cat scratch disease or strep infections. It’s important to finish the entire antibiotic course as prescribed to fully eliminate the bacteria.

Antifungal creams, oral medications like terbinafine, or shampoos containing miconazole may be used to treat ringworm. Keeping the affected area clean and covered can help prevent spreading.

Anti-parasitic drugs like albendazole or mebendazole can be used to kill intestinal worms if you develop a parasitic infection from a cat. These medications paralyze and eliminate the worms.

For flu or cold symptoms, over-the-counter medication like decongestants, expectorants, pain relievers, or cough medicine may help relieve symptoms. Be sure to rest and stay hydrated.

If you develop an infected wound from a cat scratch or bite, keeping the area clean and bandaged is important. See a doctor right away if signs of infection like redness, warmth or pus develop so appropriate antibiotic treatment can be started.

When to Consult a Vet About Your Cat

If your cat begins sneezing or coughing chronically, it’s important to have them seen by a veterinarian. Chronic upper respiratory issues in cats can be a sign of underlying illness and require medical attention (Source). Skin lesions or sores that don’t seem to heal can also indicate a problem that needs to be addressed. Cats are excellent self-groomers, so skin issues are not typical for felines.

Additionally, any sudden loss of appetite or increase in lethargy warrants a veterinary visit. Cats naturally sleep between 12-16 hours per day, so dramatic lethargy or lack of interest in play is abnormal. Anorexia in cats can lead to hepatic lipidosis, which is life threatening. Sudden behavior changes like aggression, anxiety, or house soiling should also be evaluated by a professional (Source).

If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian promptly. Catching issues early maximizes the chances of effective treatment. Let your vet know when symptoms started and monitor your cat closely until the appointment. With timely care from a cat health expert, many feline illnesses can be managed for better quality of life.

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