Cats require little maintenance and are excellent indoor companions and domestic pets. Contrary to popular belief, they are affectionate creatures who crave attention and promote better health in their owners. Evidence shows that cats seem to lower health risks for cardiovascular disease by improving high blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress levels.
Cats also contribute to healthy spousal and family relationships. The responsibility for caring for a pet instills empathetic behavior in children and adults that carries over to human beings. Couples who own pets enjoy closer, more satisfying, and less stressful relationships at home. There are a few safety concerns that cat owners should be aware of to promote wellness in their pets and themselves.
Cats, for example, should be treated for worms every three months to avoid the spread of hookworms and roundworms. They are an intestinal parasite that is common to kittens and cat colonies in animal shelters. Symptoms of worm infestation include anemia, weakness, poor appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea.
These parasites can be carried to humans, especially to children who might put their hands in their mouth after playing with or petting an infected cat, or with skin contact in areas where pets deposit feces. It is important to ensure cats regularly receive prevention care and that humans wash their hands after petting animals or when changing litter boxes.
Cat scratch disease is a bacterial infection that can affect humans. Children are most susceptible to the disease, and the United States sees around 22,000 cases each year. Adult cats and kittens carry the Bartonella bacteria responsible for the infection for months without feeling sick, but it can spread to children who are exposed to saliva or are scratched or bitten by infected animals.
The relatively mild complications associated with cat scratch disease are limited to a small lesion at the site of infection that resembles a bug bite, and the lymph nodes of the infected person may swell within four weeks. In some cases, headache, fatigue, and a mild fever are also present. The disease generally resolves on its own, and is not contagious. Once humans are exposed to the bacteria, they are immune to the symptoms.
A similar condition called toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite for which cats are known to be a major reservoir. It is passed to humans who contact or ingest food from infected soil or who carelessly handle waste material. The mild flu-like symptoms may be carried for weeks without notice, and the cats themselves rarely show symptoms.
The biggest risk groups for significant complications due to toxoplasmosis are pregnant women, who can transmit dangerous symptoms to their fetus, and those with weakened immune symptoms, such as HIV patients. For the most part, washing hands after handling cats or their litter boxes and keeping clean cat environments will eliminate the risk. As a rule, pregnant women should not change litter boxes.