Living With Cats When You’re Immunocompromised: Risks & Safety Tips

Last Updated on: November 10, 2023 by Crystal Uys

cat owner wearing a mask with her pet cat at home

While countless studies tout the physical and mental benefits of pet ownership, it can still be nerve-wracking for immunocompromised people to welcome an animal into their home. Don’t let the fear of contracting infections from cats deter you from adopting one, though. With the right precautions, cats and immunocompromised patients can live together harmoniously. Read on to find what diseases your kitty may put you at risk for developing, and our tips on reducing your risk of contracting said infections from your pet.

Our 9 Tips for Safely Living With Cats While Immunocompromised:

1. Keep your cat indoors.

Keeping your cat indoors not only protects him and the wildlife in your area but also minimizes the risk of your kitty catching diseases from other animals. If your pet doesn’t catch infectious diseases, he cannot pass them on to you.

2. Know the risks.

Before you adopt a cat, ask your doctor and prospective veterinarian about any infections or diseases you may be at risk of contracting from your pet. Knowing what you could potentially contract from your cat will make you more aware and on guard.

3. Practice safe food handling.

Whether your new kitty is on a raw or commercial diet, you’ll want to take extra care when preparing his food. Sanitize any surfaces and utensils that touch the food, and do not use the same surface to prepare his food as yours. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after feeding time.

Note: You might consider feeding only commercially prepared food and treats over raw food, as you and your pet can get sick from raw meat.

Kitten eating treats
Image Credit: Anton Chebotarov, Shutterstock

4. Have your pet tested.

Have your cat tested for feline immunodeficiency and feline leukemia viruses. While these illnesses are not spreadable to humans, they can impact your cat’s immune system. If his immune system isn’t in great shape, he may be more at risk of developing other infections that can spread to humans.

5. Keep your cat’s nails trimmed.

Trim your cat’s nails every week. Try to avoid roughhousing types of play and situations that might lead to you getting scratched, as cats can infect humans with diseases by scratching them.

Never declaw your cat. This practice is inhumane and not effective at preventing injuries. Cats without claws will turn to biting to protect themselves if they feel threatened. A cat bite is even more harmful to humans than a scratch.

6. Be smart about your litter box duties.

Keep your cat’s litter box far from areas of the home where you’ll be eating. Consider using disposable pan liners that can be tossed with every litter change.

If you live with other people, leave the litter box cleaning duties to them. If you live alone, wear gloves and a face mask to protect yourself from the poop and dust particles in the litter.

Daily scooping is essential to prevent a toxoplasmosis infection. Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. Humans can get it by eating undercooked meat or coming into contact with cat feces. Serious diseases can occur in people with weakened immune systems, so you must take steps to prevent infection.

cat on a green litter tray
Image Credit: Dina da, Shutterstock

7. Adopt from a reputable source.

Do not select a cat from the street to bring into your home. As nice as it is knowing you’re saving a cat from a life of feral living, you know nothing about this cat’s health history or where it has even come from.

When you adopt from the breeder, you are given an exact date of birth, health history, and record of vaccinations. The same applies when adopting from the local shelter. These cats will have had a once-over by the veterinarian, so you’ll know as much about their health history as possible.

8. Keep an open line of communication with your vet.

Regular veterinary exams ensure your kitty remains in good health. It is especially important for immunocompromised people to have their animals regularly checked for parasites. Your vet will likely recommend that you vaccinate your pet against zoonotic diseases to keep both you and him safe.

9. Keep your cat out of your bedroom.

Having separate sleeping quarters is a good idea for an immunocompromised person. Humans are very vulnerable when asleep, so keeping your kitty out of your bedroom at night can keep you safe from random attacks when you least expect them.

cats waiting outside the bedroom door
Image Credit: Lucamato, Shutterstock

What Diseases Are Spread by Cats?

Cats can spread several diseases that you should educate yourself about before signing the adoption papers. While the illnesses and conditions below are not comprehensive, it will give you a good idea of what types of bacteria your cat could spread to you and what could happen if you get infected.

Campylobacteriosis (Campylobacter spp.)

This disease is spread in several ways, but for the purposes of our article, we’ll just talk about how people can catch it from their cats. Pet owners most often get this disease after encountering the feces of an infected cat. It is typically contracted if people don’t wash their hands thoroughly after petting their cats or cleaning their litter box, though open wounds can also be infected with the bacteria.

Symptoms of this disease in people include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

This disease can sometimes cause complications like temporary paralysis and even spread to the bloodstream, causing a life-threatening infection.

Cat Scratch Disease (Bartonella henselae)

Cat scratch disease (CSD) infects cats through flea bites, catfights, or blood transfusions. Humans can contract CSD if an infected cat bites or scratches them.

Signs of CSD include:

  • Fevers
  • Headaches
  • Malaise
  • Fatigue
  • Small bump at the scratch site

The lymph nodes nearest the bacteria entry site can become inflamed and painful. Immunocompromised folks and children younger than five are at risk of developing serious complications involving the brain, heart, or eyes.

aggressive cat biting human hand
Image credit: Nau-Nau, Shutterstock

Cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium spp.)

Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that causes this disease, often called “crypto.” Humans can be infected with this condition if they touch their mouths after handling an infected cat.

Signs of cryptosporidiosis include:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Cramping
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea

Giardiasis (Giardia duodenalis)

Giardiasis can spread by swallowing poop particles that contain the parasite. This intestinal infection is often seen in travelers that consume contaminated water, though you can contract it from your cat.

Signs of giardiasis include:

  • Mild to severe diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Stomach cramps
  • Dehydration

Salmonellosis (Salmonella spp.)

Cats sometimes contract salmonellosis after eating birds or rodents infected with the bacteria. It can also be caused by contaminated raw food. You can then be infected if you come into contact with your sick cat’s poop.

Signs of salmonellosis include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramping

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)

MRSA can cause many types of infections, like pneumonia or skin infections. It spreads between humans and animals through touch. Cats not exhibiting any signs of illness can still be carriers of MRSA.

MRSA is very common in people with long-term illnesses or those with compromised immune systems.

The signs of this condition will depend on what part of the body is infected. Folks with skin infections often see swelling, warmth, pain, and redness in the affected areas. There may be drainage happening (pus), and the infected person might also have a fever.

Final Thoughts

Immunocompromised people can reap the benefits of living with pets, provided they take the proper precautions to protect themselves. Numerous diseases and infections can indeed be passed from cats to humans, but there are many ways to safeguard oneself against infections.

We recommend talking to your medical team before adopting a cat to ensure this is the right pet for you. Cats and immunocompromised patients can work as long as you follow your doctor’s advice and take certain precautions.

Featured Image Credit: Nitiphonphat, Shutterstock

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