Contagious Cat Diseases: A Pet Parent Guide On Feline Health Conditions

Contagious Cat Diseases: A Pet Parent Guide On Feline Health Conditions

Alpha Paw Sale

Oct 27, 2021
Dr cristina vulpe AUTHOR Dr. Christina Vulpe, DVM

Reviewed by Dr. Christina Vulpe, DVM

Dr. Cristina Vulpe is a board-certified small animal veterinarian. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 2011 and her PhD in veterinary oncology in 2015.

Stamp img

Symptoms and Warning Signs

Kittens, adults, and senior cats are susceptible to many feline diseases. Therefore, it is quite difficult to put together a list of general symptoms that you should be on the lookout for. Additionally, it is even more challenging since cats are known for hiding the clinical signs of disease for as long as possible.

However, some obvious signs are listed below. If your cat exhibits any of these symptoms, it should be taken to the animal hospital as soon as possible:

  • Eye and nasal discharge
  • Digestive problems such as vomiting and diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing, coughing, sneezing
  • Lethargy and fever
  • General pain
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Straining to urinate or defecate
  • Any color modifications in the visible mucous membranes (the gums and the eyes)
  • Intense scratching
  • Lumps and bumps

Contagious cat diseases: a pet parent guide on feline health conditions

Common Contagious Diseases In Cats

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Spread through a cat’s saliva, FIV is one of the deadliest and unfortunately, one of the most common viruses carried by outdoor cats. All cats are susceptible to developing this infectious condition, regardless of age or health status.

If they are in good health, some adult cats may not show any symptoms for several years. However, at some point, the cat’s immune system will stop working normally. A healthy cat that goes outside every day can come in direct contact with other cats who carry the virus. If your pet gets bitten by an infected cat, they might be diagnosed with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and have it for the rest of their life.

Feline Leukemia Virus

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is one of the deadliest and most contagious conditions of cats to date. It is also spread through the saliva of infected cats, so outdoor animals have a much higher likelihood of coming into direct contact with a potential carrier. The pathogen of this feline infectious disease can also be spread through feces, urine, and blood. Mother cats can also pass it to their kittens through milk.

Currently, there is no treatment for Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV). Some of the symptoms that an infected cat might show are neurologic disorders, anemia, digestive health issues, and general malaise.

Feline Rhinotracheitis

Feline Rhinotracheitis is not a disease per se as veterinarians actually use the term to refer to a variety of pathogens that can cause upper respiratory infections. Whether caused by Calicivirus, Herpesvirus, Chlamydophila, Bordetella, or Mycoplasma, this type of upper respiratory infection is typically characterized by nasal discharge, sneezing, cough, ulcers, and fever.

Some cats might present enlarged lymph nodes or other symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection, such as runny eyes. Rhinotracheitis is highly contagious and causes severe problems in large cat communities such as shelters.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is less common compared to the other viruses that cats may come in contact with throughout their life. However, it is incurable and more often than not, fatal, particularly when it affects kittens.

The disease is produced by a mutated form of the Feline Coronavirus which causes weight loss, fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy. There is a FIP vaccine available but it is a non-core shot, which is why some pet parents might feel like their cats might not get the infection.

Feline Panleukopenia

Feline Panleukopenia (FP) is a quite dangerous infection that cats can get from pretty much anywhere in their environment. If they go outside and come into contact with a new cat that could be a carrier, they could develop the disease and severe symptoms.

In young cats, feline panleukopenia can be deadly. It produces a wide range of symptoms from anorexia and high fever to diarrhea and vomiting, nasal discharge, and lethargy. Most kittens and infected cats die as a result of severe dehydration rather than the infection itself.

Contagious cat diseases: a pet parent guide on feline health conditions

Feline Calicivirus

Feline Calicivirus is an upper respiratory infection that affects a variety of cats from domestic to wild and exotic ones. Sneezing, conjunctivitis, and nose and eye discharge are the most common symptoms that cats can experience, but general complications such as fever aren’t uncommon, either.

An infected cat can pass this infection to other animals through their respiratory secretions. Sharing the same litter box can be a risk, too, although the virus is less likely to be eliminated through urine and feces. Consider using a cat litter that has a health indicator. This highly sophisticated cat litter will measure certain chemicals in your cat’s urine and give you a color-coded reading on their health.

Respiratory and Digestive Infections

Even though viral diseases in cats are without a doubt some of the most dangerous ones, bacterial ones can occur, too, and they can affect a cat’s life and well-being. Respiratory, digestive, and urinary tract infections are among the most common ones that a cat can develop at one point or the other.

If your cat is a relatively healthy animal, their immune system will function properly so that with the right treatment, they will be able to recover. Your veterinarian can treat most bacterial infections with a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

In any case, and even if these infectious pathogens are less dangerous compared to FeLV or FIV, for example, you should make sure that your cat gets the right tests that can reveal what pathogen has caused the disease. Following this procedure, the vet can send the testing samples to a laboratory where an antibiogram will be performed and that will reveal just what medication the germ is sensitive to.

This is the correct protocol for treating a bacterial infection in cats. Your veterinarian can administer a broad-spectrum antibiotic without further testing, but they could risk causing antibiotic resistance.

What Should I Do if I Think My Cat Has A Contagious Disease?

The answer to this question actually depends on the exact type of disease you suspect your cat has. For example, they might have Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), Calicivirus, Ringworm, Rabies, or any other illness that could be transmitted to a kitten or human.

First of all, you have to ask yourself several questions. Is the cat a potential danger to other people? If that’s the case, you have to call Animal Control as soon as possible. Infected cats may spread the rabies virus to many other people through bites in a somewhat limited amount of time.

On the other hand, if you see any symptoms that could lead you to believe that your cat might be suffering from viral infections or bacterial infections that might not pose a threat to humans, the best advice we have for you is to reach out to your veterinarian.

There are lots of tests that they can perform to tell exactly what health problem your kittens might be suffering from.

If you have some experience and have been a cat parent before, so you might know the symptoms of potentially deadly and highly contagious diseases such as FeLV, FIV, FIP, or other such feline infectious diseases, the best way of going about things is to isolate your cat.

Of course, take them to the vet, but when you come back home, create a safe and clean environment for them where they can rest away from the other cats you might own. Avoid using the same food and water bowls, accessories, blankets, and whatever else they might regularly share.

Contagious cat diseases: a pet parent guide on feline health conditions

What Kind of Diseases Can A Cat Give A Person?

Fleas

Even though ‘fleas’ are not a condition per se, they can be vectors of numerous diseases. For example, they can pass intestinal parasites to your cat which you can then get, too. They can also be vectors of the bacterium that causes cat scratch disease, which is another zoonosis.

Most cat owners choose to give their feline friends medication or apply topical solutions against fleas and ticks every 3 to 4 months. Talk to your veterinarian about what products they recommend.

Scabies

Compared to fleas, scabies is less common. However, it can still be transmitted from cat groups to their pet parents.

Scabies is caused by a mite that burrows under the skin of humans and animals. It sounds scary and it’s anything but pleasant considering that the infection causes intense itching in both cats and humans. However, it is somewhat easy to treat through specific medications, ointments, and even washing solutions.

Since the parasites can linger in the cat’s living environment, it’s highly advised for you to clean your bedding, clothes, and everything in your house.

Intestinal Parasites

All cats are likely to have intestinal parasites at one point or the other, but some of them can be transmitted to humans.

Roundworms and hookworms are the most likely parasites that can be passed on to humans by cats.

We aren’t going to go into a lot of detail about the two main parasites that infected cats can transmit, Toxocara and Ancylostoma, but we are going to note that practicing good hygiene and making sure that you always wash your hands after handling cat feces can prevent these health issues.

Indoor cats are considerably less likely to get such a parasite from another cat that could live outdoors. Have a talk with your veterinarian to find out what animal dewormers they recommend and how often you should administer the treatment to your pet.

Contagious cat diseases: a pet parent guide on feline health conditions

Cat Scratch Disease

Cat Scratch Disease an infection is caused by a bacterium called Bartonella henselae. Kittens and adult cats can get it from other pets’ saliva or by being bitten by cat fleas.

The disease itself rarely produces health issues in our feline friends. A cat may experience inflammation and pain at the wound site, poor appetite, sore joints, a headache, or a slight fever. The local lymph nodes might grow in size in some cases.

Kittens are the main vectors of the disease in humans, which is why people who are immunocompromised are advised to avoid contact with young cats. Healthy people are likely to be asymptomatic if they do come in contact with the bacterium — but seniors, babies, and people with autoimmune disease can develop symptoms of the infection.

Pasteurellosis

Pasteurella multocida is a bacterium that can be found in many cats’ mouths. The infection rarely causes any real issues in people especially since it can be treated with antibiotics.

However, depending on the bite site, its depth, and severity, the microorganism could end up in a person’s blood circulation, in which case it can cause sepsis or an infection of the heart valves.

Since the bacterium can be found in up to 70% of all cats in the world, cat owners should make sure they teach their pets not to engage in rough play and bite them.

Toxoplasmosis

Cats can be carriers of Toxoplasmosis and they can transmit it to their pet parents. Most cats become infected by eating small rodents or birds.

If you get this disease from an infected cat and you are pregnant, you might risk severe health complications. The parasite is eliminated in the environment by infected cats, so even if your own doesn’t eat small prey, they could get it by grooming their body after simply stepping on the ground outside.

However, one of the most common ways people can get Toxoplasma is not by coming into contact with their cats’ feces but by eating raw meat or drinking contaminated water. If your cat tests positive for Toxoplasma and you are pregnant, you should avoid handling their feces. If you have to handle their feses, use as much protection as possible (use gloves and disinfect everything).

3 tips to make life easier for your senior cat

Salmonellosis

Cat owners could become infected with the Salmonella genus from their feline friends, but most of the cases of this infection that are seen in North America are actually from eating contaminated food rather than coming in contact with cat feces.

Salmonellosis can usually resolve naturally, but in some cases, humans might need medical assistance. Like other types of infections, this disease is more common in outdoor pets as these cats may eat wild birds and animals that could have been infected.

It’s also worth noting that healthy cats can catch the germ from raw meat if they are fed a homemade raw diet. Feeding cats cooked food or commercial diets can largely prevent this infection.

Rabies

Even though rabies has become a less common infectious disease of animals these days as pet owners now vaccinate their furry friends against it, it is still one of the most dangerous infectious diseases that cats and other species can get.

If your cat lives indoors and outdoors, she might come in direct contact with an infected animal that might carry the rabies virus.

Rabies affects a lot of parts of a cat’s body, especially the nervous system. This viral disease has no cure to date in any species, so by vaccinating your cat against it you will be protecting not just your pet, but also yourself and your family.

Some outdoor cats in the United States might have a higher likelihood of becoming infected depending on the area they live in. The rabies vaccine should be administered to all cats and dogs.

Alpha Paw Sale
author image

Dr. Christina Vulpe, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Cristina Vulpe is a board-certified small animal veterinarian. She earned her veterinary degree in 2011 from USAMV in Iasi, Romania, and her PhD in Canine Oncology in 2015 from USAMV in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She is passionate about anything from animal nutrition & welfare to veterinary parasitology & infectious diseases. As a responsible pet parent herself, she enjoys giving reliable medical advice that pet owners can trust, which is why she joined Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts on our mission to help our readers give their pets the happy & healthy lives they deserve.

Top Posts

Dog Eye Infections: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention
Dog Eye Infections: Symptoms, Causes
Dog Sneezing? Here’s Why Dogs Sneeze – And What To Do About It
Dog Sneezing? Here’s Why Dogs
Dog Ear Yeast Infections: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention
Dog Ear Yeast Infections: Symptoms,
Hot Spots on Dogs: Causes, Treatment & Prevention [Vet Expert Guide]
Hot Spots on Dogs: Causes, Treatment
How To Clean Dog Ears in 4 Easy Steps (According to Our Vet)
How To Clean Dog Ears in 4 Easy Step

Welcome to our Vet Corner

Each week, we publish high-quality, helpful content written & reviewed by our team of board-certified veterinary specialists. Think of us as your partners in pet parenthood: we’re here to provide you with expert medical answers to your pet health questions, so you can continue to give your pets the happy & healthy lives they deserve.

The Vet Stamp of Approval

Ah, the coveted Vet Stamp of Approval. We live for this badge. When you see it, you’ll know you’re in good hands. (Not seeing the badge on an article that needs it? Reach out to us and we’ll get right on it!)

Disclaimer

The medical, nutritional, or behavioral advice we provide is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Our editorial content is not a substitute for formal or personalized medical advice from a veterinary professional. Only board-certified veterinary specialists who have examined your pet should diagnose medical conditions, provide personalized treatment, or prescribe appropriate medication. For questions regarding your pet’s health, or if your pet is exhibiting signs of illness, injury, or distress, contact your veterinarian immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on our site.