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Is it safe to have a cat around my children? What diseases can children catch from a cat?

Most cats tolerate children well, however always be cautious and avoid leaving your children alone with any animals. Even if your cat is very affectionate and loves handling, a poke or prod from a small child may irritate him to the point of scratching or biting.  Make sure your children understand that they must treat all animals kindly and handle them gently.

Some children are allergic to cats and may wheeze and sneeze after handling them.  There are also a few parasites and bacteria to be aware of as a cat owner.  Some common worms of cats and dogs can be transmitted to humans.  Be sure that you have your cat is regularly wormed and that your children wash their hands after playing with your cat.  Toxoplasmosis is caused by an infection with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii.  Toxoplasmosis is quite common in both cats and humans and is only a concern if you are pregnant or have a condition affecting your immunity (eg. people with HIV/AIDS or receiving treatment for cancer).  Although cats are part of the life cycle of T. gondii, you are more likely to catch it from eating raw meat or unwashed vegetables.  Cat scratch disease (CSD) is another condition caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae and is transmitted from cats, usually kittens, to humans by biting and scratching.  The symptoms of CSD include swollen lymph nodes and occasionally fever and headaches.  Complications are rare and again, usually only occur in immunocompromised individuals.  Cats that carry T. gondii or B. henselae do not appear sick themselves so you cannot predict which cats might able to transmit toxoplasmosis or CSD.

You and your children are unlikely to catch a harmful parasite or disease from your cat.  Ensure that your cat is regularly wormed (talk to your vet about this) and that you and your children wash your hands after handling your pets, particularly before eating.  Always wash cat scratches and bites thoroughly and see a doctor if you feel unwell or the scratch/bite becomes infected.

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Updated on April 30, 2019
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