Is it Safe to Leave Kitty Kisses on Your Face?

Risks of a Cat Licking Your Face

Cat saliva can contain bacteria and parasites that can be transmitted to humans. Some of the main risks include:

Toxoplasmosis – This parasitic infection is caused by Toxoplasma gondii. Cats can become infected by eating contaminated raw meat or rodents infected with the parasite. Toxoplasmosis is one of the most common parasitic zoonotic diseases transmitted from cats to humans. Symptoms are usually mild in healthy adults but can cause birth defects if a woman is infected during pregnancy (1).

Cat Scratch Disease – Also known as cat scratch fever, this bacterial infection is caused by Bartonella henselae bacteria found in cat saliva. The bacteria enters the body through scratches, bites or contact with saliva. Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, fatigue. The infection usually resolves on its own but can become serious in immunocompromised individuals (2).

Allergic Reactions – Some people can develop an allergic reaction after being exposed to substances in cat saliva. Symptoms include redness, itching, swelling, and hives on the area of skin exposed. In severe cases, a person may experience anaphylaxis after being licked by a cat (3).

Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. Cats are the definitive host for T. gondii, meaning the parasite reproduces sexually in the cat’s gut and is then shed in their feces (1). The CDC estimates over 40 million people in the United States may be infected with the Toxoplasma parasite (2).

While infected cats usually show no symptoms, T. gondii can be transmitted to humans through ingesting contaminated water or food, or accidentally ingesting infected cat feces (e.g. by touching your mouth after cleaning the litter box). In most healthy humans it causes no symptoms, but it can cause serious complications for pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals (3).

Cats become infected by ingesting tissue cysts in infected prey animals, or anything contaminated with feces from another infected cat. An infected cat only sheds the parasite for 1-3 weeks, but the eggs (called oocysts) become infectious after 1-5 days in the environment (1).

Sources:
1. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/toxoplasmosis-cats
2. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/resources/printresources/catowners_2017.pdf
3. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/toxoplasmosis

Cat Scratch Disease

Cat scratch disease is caused by a bacteria called Bartonella henselae. This bacteria is found in cat saliva and can be transmitted to humans when a cat licks an open wound or scratches or bites a person, breaking the skin. According to the CDC, “The disease spreads when an infected cat licks a person’s open wound, or bites or scratches a person hard enough to break the surface of the skin.”

When a cat harboring the bacteria in their mouth licks a person’s face, there is a risk of transmission if the cat’s saliva comes into contact with any breaks in the skin, eyes, nose or mouth. Scratches or bites that break the skin pose an even greater risk of contracting cat scratch disease.

Allergic Reactions

Some people are allergic to proteins found in cat saliva, urine, and dander. According to WebMD, these proteins can trigger an allergic response when they come into contact with the skin or mucous membranes. The main allergy-causing protein is called Fel d 1, and it is found in cat saliva. When a cat licks a person, the saliva deposits Fel d 1 onto the skin, which may lead to an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals.

Allergic reactions can range from mild (watery eyes, sneezing) to severe (hives, vomiting). In rare cases, anaphylaxis may occur. Cat allergy symptoms usually start 10-20 minutes after exposure and can last for hours. The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid contact with cat saliva proteins completely.

When to Wash Your Face After a Cat Licks It

Washing your face after a cat licks it is recommended in several situations:

  • If the cat just ate or drank – Their mouth may contain bacteria from their food or water that could be transferred to your face. It’s best to wash immediately after they lick you.
  • If you have acne, cuts, eczema or other skin conditions – Broken skin is more vulnerable to bacteria entering. Thoroughly wash any licked areas that have compromised skin.
  • If you have a weakened immune system – Those with illnesses or taking immunosuppressant medication are more susceptible to infection. Quickly wash licked skin and watch for any signs of infection.

According to Petpedia, “To keep it on the safe side, wash your face with antibacterial soap after your cat licks it. Also, if you have any cuts or open wounds, keep them covered when interacting with your cat.” https://petpedia.co/why-does-my-cat-lick-my-face/

How to Wash Your Face

It’s important to wash your face gently after a cat licks it to remove saliva and prevent skin irritation or infection. Use a mild, non-drying cleanser and lukewarm water.

Apply a small amount of a gentle face wash to your hands and rub together to create a lather. Avoid using harsh soaps or scrubbing beads which can further irritate skin. Gently massage the cleanser onto your face using your fingertips in small circular motions. Take care around your eyes and lips where skin is delicate.

After washing for 30-60 seconds, rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water. Pat your face dry with a clean towel. Avoid rubbing or scrubbing too vigorously, which can damage skin. After patting dry, apply a gentle, non-comedogenic moisturizer suitable for your skin type.

Washing with a gentle cleanser and lukewarm water will help remove allergens and prevent infection without stripping your skin of natural oils. Be sure to moisturize after to avoid dryness or irritation. See a dermatologist if any rashes, bumps or redness develop after a cat licks your face.

Avoid Mouth and Eyes

Cat saliva can contain bacteria that are potentially harmful to humans. Two main bacteria to be aware of are Bartonella henselae and Toxoplasma gondii.

Bartonella henselae is the bacteria that causes cat scratch disease. While cats and kittens usually do not show symptoms, the bacteria can be transferred to humans through bites and scratches. In rare cases, it can also be transferred through a cat’s saliva into the human mouth or eyes. Infection of the eyes (neuroretinitis) can lead to vision loss.

Toxoplasma gondii is the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. Cats are the primary host for T. gondii. While cats rarely show symptoms, T. gondii oocysts are shed in cat feces. Oocysts can then be transferred to the cat’s fur through grooming. A cat’s saliva can potentially transmit oocysts into a human’s mouth or eyes where they can cause toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is especially dangerous for pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals.

For these reasons, it’s best to avoid letting a cat lick inside your mouth or eyes. Thoroughly wash your face with soap and water if a cat’s tongue comes in contact with these areas. While rare, cat saliva does carry risk of bacterial transmission to humans.

Clean Cat’s Mouth

Regularly cleaning your cat’s mouth and teeth is critical for their health and can help prevent many issues. Dental disease is extremely common in cats, with over 70% of cats over the age of 3 suffering from some level of dental disease. Plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth and gums can lead to gingivitis, tooth decay, and periodontal disease if left untreated.

The gold standard for cat dental care is daily tooth brushing. Brushing helps remove plaque before it turns into tartar and keeps your cat’s mouth clean and bacteria-free. Studies show brushing can reduce plaque by up to 50% in 2 weeks. If brushing is not possible, annual veterinary dental cleanings are highly recommended. Vet cleanings allow for a deep scaling and polishing of the teeth under anesthesia to fully remove built-up tartar and bacteria below the gumline.

Neglecting dental care allows plaque bacteria to proliferate, enter the bloodstream, and potentially cause liver, kidney and heart disease. Keeping your cat’s mouth clean through brushing and professional vet cleanings is crucial for their health and can help prevent many secondary health issues.

Watch for Signs

It’s important to monitor yourself for any skin irritation or flu-like symptoms after a cat licks your face, as these could be signs of infection. Look out for redness, swelling, warmth, pain or pus at the area your cat’s mouth came into contact with your skin. Flu symptoms to watch for include headache, fatigue, decreased appetite, joint pain, fever or swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms may indicate diseases transmitted by cats through saliva, scratches or bites, such as cat scratch disease or capnocytophagosis. Seek medical attention if any of these concerning signs develop within 3-10 days after your cat made contact with your face.

When to See a Doctor

In most cases, cat allergies cause mild symptoms that can be managed at home. However, you should see a doctor if your symptoms persist or worsen despite taking precautions. According to the Mayo Clinic (1), you should seek medical care if you experience:

  • Shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, or coughing after pet exposure
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Swollen tongue or throat
  • Hives, itching, rash or swelling in areas other than the face

Those at higher risk for severe allergic reactions include people with asthma, prior anaphylaxis, or other allergies like hay fever. See a doctor right away if you experience any signs of a severe allergic reaction after a cat licks your face, such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips/face/throat, rapid pulse, dizziness, or fainting. Prompt medical treatment can help manage severe symptoms and prevent a life-threatening reaction.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top