I love my cat to bits and plant more than 1000 kisses on his head daily. But if there’s one thing I draw the line at is allowing my cat to lick my face or eat off my plate.
There are many cat owners out there who are very comfortable with sharing food with their cats as the cat is part of the family. But, as cat owners, we also need to be aware that as much as we regard our cats as clean, there is still a certain risk of infection.
Is it safe for you to eat human food that has your cat’s saliva on it?
Cat saliva can contain certain bacteria or parasites that can be passed on to humans and make us sick. It wouldn’t be in your best interest to eat human food that has your cat’s saliva on it. Although these infections can be rare, once infected, they can make your feel very sick.
In this article, we will take a look at the possible issues that can arise when you share human food with your cat.
Is Cat Saliva Harmful Or Poisonous To Humans?
Just so that we are on the same page, I am not out to make our cats seem like disease-carrying zombies. My cat is family and nothing will change that.
We will probably get more germs by shaking someone’s hand or having someone accidentally sneeze or cough on us. But we still can’t deny the fact that our cats can carry zoonotic diseases without us realizing it.
Zoonotic diseases are infections that can be passed from animals to humans.
Here are some possible infections that you can pick up from your cat’s saliva.
The rabies virus would be the most dangerous zoonotic disease that you can get from a cat. Although rabies is usually spread from a bite, it is also possible to get it by ingesting your cat’s saliva.
The virus in your cat’s saliva can enter your bloodstream through the mucous membrane in your mouth. Once infected by the virus, it will make its way to your brain.
Symptoms of rabies in humans include:
The scary thing about rabies in both humans and infected cats is that 99% of the time, it is fatal. Thankfully, only 1-3 cases of human rabies are reported each year in the United States.
Furthermore, rabies vaccination is required by law for all cats. You’re more at risk of catching rabies from a wild raccoon or fox.
Cats are relatively clean creatures with all that grooming that they do. However, due to the lack of access to toilet paper, your cat will have to clean itself after using the litter box with its tongue.
This means that the chances of your cat having cat poop in or on its mouth are pretty high. The problem with cat poop is that it can be a melting pot for many different types of bacteria, viruses and parasites.
The common parasites that can be found in cat droppings are:
When a cat gets infected with fleas, these parasites will stick to the cat’s body and feed on its blood. Fleas are very small and resemble moving specks of dust on your cat’s skin. Cats with a flea infection will be scratching themselves a lot and can also have skin that’s inflamed.
When the cat grooms itself and swallows the fleas, it can get infected with tapeworms as fleas are a host for these worms. These worms will start to live and reproduce in your cat’s intestines.
Infected cats can also have tapeworm eggs or larvae in their poop. It is possible that your cat can spread these parasites on your food after grooming its butt.
And if you happen to swallow the contaminated food, you can get infected with tapeworms as well.
Symptoms of tapeworm infection include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Stomach pain
Roundworms And Hookworms
Roundworms and hookworms are similar to tapeworms as they live in your cat’s intestines and can end up in its poop.
However, only tapeworms can live and reproduce in the intestines of a human. Parasites like roundworms and hookworms tend to take up residence in the skin, eyes and other organs of a human.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection that is caused by a microscopic cell called Toxoplasma gondii. It is said that more than 40 million people in America could be infected with this parasite.
Humans can get infected by this parasite by eating contaminated food and drinking contaminated water. Another mode of transmission is from cats.
Cats can get infected by this parasite by eating infected prey like mice, rats, birds, etc. So if you have a cat that enjoys bringing you mice as gifts, you need to be extra careful.
It is possible for us to get toxoplasmosis by touching or ingesting anything that has come into contact with contaminated cat poop like cat saliva on your food.
Cat Scratch Disease
Cat scratch disease is caused by a bacteria called Bartonella henselae which a cat can get from fleas or fights with an infected cat.
Humans can get this bacteria from a cat’s saliva which is usually transmitted when a cat bites or scratches. The reason why a cat’s scratch can also cause this is from a cat licking its nails and paws when grooming itself.
This can be made worse if your cat has stepped on its poop in its litter box. Litter boxes should be cleaned as often as possible to lower the risk of contamination.
There’s even a song named after this condition and it’s called ‘Cat Scratch Fever’.
More than 30%-40% of cats have this bacteria in them but don’t show any signs of it. It is more commonly found in kittens which are likely to spread it to their owners from their constant biting and scratching.
Symptoms of cat scratch disease include:
- Lost of appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Infected wound of bite or scratch
In more serious cases, this bacteria can affect a person’s vision, liver and central nervous system.
You might not get this from your cat’s bite or scratch but if you have an ulcer or a tear in your mouth, the bacteria in your cat’s saliva can enter your bloodstream from there.
Who Should Be Careful Of Cat Saliva?
I’ve been a cat owner for many decades without having any form of serious infection from my cat. The worse it ever got to was bad scratches when I tried to feed him his medication.
I’m sure many cat owners will agree with me on this as well.
However, as safe as our cats are, there are a few groups of people that need to be more careful when coming into contact with cat saliva.
Individuals With Weakened Immune Systems
For most of us who are healthy and have a robust immune system, our bodies are able to fight off most of the possible zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted via a cat’s saliva.
Even if we fall ill, the symptoms are usually mild and can clear up with or without medication.
It might be different for people with compromised immune systems as the symptoms can be more severe resulting in other forms of complications.
Infants, young children and the elderly should not expose themselves to cat saliva if possible. Do not let any cat lick any part of your skin that is broken or wounded. By doing so, it is possible for a cat to pass ringworm to a human this way.
Ringworm is a skin infection that appears as red scaly patches on the body. It is very contagious and requires medication to get rid of.
Pregnant Or Expecting Women
Pregnant or expecting women should not have any contact with cat saliva or even go close to a used litter box.
This group of individuals is at risk of contracting a zoonotic disease which can be passed on to their unborn child leading to congenital birth defects.
This is especially true for toxoplasma which can cause health issues like blindness and mental disability in the child as it gets older.
Some cats can start to get clingy if you’re pregnant as some say that cats are sensitive enough to smell the hormonal change in a pregnant woman. Just be more diligent about washing your hands and face if your cat has licked you.
How Do I Keep My Cat Safe From These Dangerous Diseases?
The best thing that you can do for your cat and family is to keep your cat indoors. Indoor cats are less likely to come into contact with contaminated cat food, water and fecal matter as compared to outdoor cats.
Furthermore, outdoor cats can get into fights with other cats that might be carrying these diseases.
By keeping your cat indoors, you are also preventing your cat from running away or getting hit by a car.
Make sure to also get your cat vaccinated against rabies and properly dewormed at the vet. As long as keep your cat well protected from such diseases and the outdoors, you are ensuring a safe environment for your family and your cat.
If your cat has licked your hands or face, sanitize or wash the affected areas to avoid touching accidentally touching your eyes, nose, mouth or open wound.
Can I Eat My Food If My Cat Licked It?
I would strongly suggest that you don’t eat any food that your cat has licked. Your cat might be very safe and clean but it is best to not take any chances.
You can choose to reheat the food for a while to kill off any bacteria or throw away the part that your cat has licked.
If I am making a dish that both me and my cat loves like scrambled eggs and cheese, I will make sure to portion out his part and put it in his food bowl rather than allow him to eat off my plate.