Are you aware that your cat’s litter box can transform into a health risk?
According to the CDC, as a cat owner, you should be aware that your cat can carry dangerous bacteria and pathogens. These pathogens can cause various illnesses in humans, ranging from minor skin infections to serious diseases.1
Litter boxes are an essential part of your everyday living since your feline friend relies on them for her elimination process.
Litter box hygiene by daily scooping and regular cleaning is important to ensure that the box remains clean, odorless, and hopefully risk-free.
Are you doing enough to ensure that the cat’s litter box doesn’t transform into a health risk?
Here are the various ways in which a dirty litter box can make you sick.
Illness caused by cat urine and feces
Can you get sick from cleaning up cat poop? Here are the different ways cat poop and urine can make you ill:
1. Cat litter ammonia poisoning:
A multi-cat household with a limited number of litter boxes means that the cats will quickly fill up the dirty litter boxes with poop and urine. If the dirty cat boxes aren’t scooped, there will be a buildup of ammonia due to the cat urine. Constant cleaning is needed to avoid infections.
High levels can be dangerous and breathing in cat litter fumes constantly can affect you.
Male cat urine has the strongest smell although the female kitty excretes pungent urine too. Older cats excrete urine that has a stronger odor than younger cats. The odor problems are mainly caused by ammonia, mercaptans, and other chemicals and gases produced from the urine and cat poop.
Fresh urine has very little odor, but as soon as it lands on the cat’s litter box, it begins to decay.
In the first stage of decay, the urea in the urine breaks down into amines that create an unpleasant odor.
The second stage of decay produces mercaptans that cause the most serious odor issues. Mercaptans are the chemicals that give skunk spray and rotten cabbage their distinctive odors. If they aren’t removed by scooping and cleaning the litter box, the urine odor will remain and become stronger over time.
2. Risk of Bacterial Infection:
Bacteria in a kitty can be transmitted in various ways, such as direct contact with the cat or by touching the cat poop. Various bacteria exist that can be transmitted from the dirty litter box to you.
This is a bacterial infection caused by a type of Salmonella. A kitty is a relatively asymptomatic carrier unless her health is compromised due to a different health issue or is stressed or malnourished.
An infected cat will shed the bacteria in the feces. You then stand a risk of infection and falling sick through touching your cat’s poop in the dirty litter box. Wear gloves while cleaning the pan. It is a zoonotic disease.
Your cat can acquire salmonella by eating uncooked meat, contaminated canned food, or even bird feces.
Toxoplasmosis is a zoonotic disease too and poses danger, especially to pregnant women and those whose immune systems are compromised e.g HIV positive, cancer patients, or those with organ transplants. It is spread by handling or eating raw meat, drinking unpasteurized milk or eating unwashed fruits or vegetables, gardening in infected soil, and through contact with infected fecal material.
Cats are one of the hosts that can carry and pass this parasite to humans through infectious cysts shed in their stool.
According to the CDC, more than 40 million men, women, and children in the U.S. carry the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness. However, women newly infected with Toxoplasma during or shortly before pregnancy and anyone with a compromised immune system should be aware that toxoplasmosis can have severe consequences.
Cats shed toxoplasma cysts (the egg stage) in their feces 3 to 10 days after eating infected tissues. They will shed the cysts for up to 14 days, and afterward, it is unlikely that they will ever shed them again; even after repeated exposure. So only a recent infection is contagious.
For you to be infected and fall sick, the following sequence of events has to happen.
The cysts do not become infectious to other animals and humans until one to four days have passed, so the infected stool has to have been in the dirty litter box for more than 24 hours. You would then touch the stool with your bare hands and then get some of the stool in your mouth or eye.
While this is unlikely to happen, it is good to ensure proper hygiene and litter box safety.
However, the greatest risk of toxoplasma infection in humans is eating raw or undercooked meats and not contact with cat poop.
3. Risk of Internal Parasites:
Some of the most common types of internal parasites are roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and whipworms. Other internal parasites that can infect your cat include protozoans such as Giardia and Coccidia.
The signs of a parasite infestation include intermittent, foulsmelling (often bloody) diarrhea, mucus in the stool, a potbellied appearance, weight loss, and, with tapeworm, ricelike debris or moving segments sticking to the cat’s anal area or in the litter box.
All internal parasites should be specifically identified by laboratory analysis (in most cases by microscopic examination of a fresh stool sample) and treated by a veterinarian. Once the type of internal parasite is identified, your vet will dispense the correct medication for worming, calculating the dosage is based partly on your cat’s age and physical condition.
Deworming medicines are formulated to kill internal parasites and can be dangerous when administered in excessive amounts.
Roundworms and Hookworms can cause diseases in people especially children due to the contact with cat waste in the litter box. Children also have a weaker immune system and hence are more vulnerable.
They may ingest the parasitic larva by touching their mouths after playing with the cat litter box. The larvae may then infect the abdominal organs or even the central nervous system.
Symptoms of visceral larva migrans infection in people may include fever-like symptoms, fatigue, coughing, wheezing, and abdominal pain. Ensure that you are cleaning the litter box frequently to avoid getting such diseases from cat feces and urine.
4. Risk of Fungal Infection:
Ringworm (or dermatophytosis) is a skin infection caused by a group of fungi. An infected kitty most often comes from environments housing large numbers of animals.
In cats, ringworm usually appears as a dry, gray, scaly patch on the skin. In people, ringworm often appears as a round, red, itchy lesion with a ring of scale around the edge. Lesions may be found in a variety of places, including the scalp, the feet (referred to as “athlete’s foot”), the groin, or the beard.
Ringworm is transmitted by contact with an infected animal’s skin or fur, either directly or from a contaminated litter box. Infected cats continuously drop fungal spores from their skin and fur.
These spores, which remain capable of causing infection for many months, are difficult to eradicate from a household. Children are particularly at risk of infection and becoming sick.
To reduce environmental contamination, confine infected cats to one room until they are free of infection, then thoroughly clean and disinfect the household.
Can a litter box cause headaches?
Ammonia, being a toxic gas can cause symptoms like mild headaches, lightheadedness, nausea, and even respiratory complications by irritating the bronchial membranes in your lungs.
Ammonia fumes may trigger coughing and other serious complications or even diseases.
Can breathing in cat urine and feces make you sick?
Yes, breathing in cat urine and feces can make you sick. It will irritate the bronchial membranes in your lungs causing respiratory problems.
All these sicknesses are effects of breathing in cat urine and poop in a dirty litter box.
Breathing in cat litter poses health risks and can harm you and may cause respiratory problems in humans. This is why frequent cleaning is needed to avoid infections
Dangers of having the litter box in your bedroom
Sleeping near a litter box is a big NO!
Placing the litter box in your bedroom poses various dangers due to the risk of inhaling toxic ammonia gas while you sleep.
Even though you might clean it regularly, your cat will probably pee in the cat box while you sleep and you will have to breathe that in throughout the night.
Let’s not dive into the fact that you might trip over the box in case you wake up to take a piss in the middle of the night, one eye closed!
Dangers of a cat litter box in the kitchen
Cat poop contains parasites and bacteria, which should not find their way to the kitchen. Most cat litters contain dust and this can become air-bone contaminating your kitchen surfaces like chopping boards.
Litter tracking is another issue to deal with and it may contain harmful pathogens that may cause illnesses should they get into contact with your food and water.
How to Prevent Yourself From The Dangers of Cat Litter to Humans
- Scoop the litter box daily to prevent any parasites from becoming infective.
- Have someone else in your family scoop and clean the dirty litter box during your first trimester of pregnancy.
- If you must engage in scooping and cleaning a litter box, wear rubber or plastic gloves when you do and wash your hands with soap and water afterward.
- Wash the litter box with scalding water. Disinfectants are ineffective against toxoplasma gondii cysts.
- Feed your cat commercial cat food or cooked homemade food, never anything raw or undercooked.
- Keep your cat indoors at home to prevent any accidental encounter with birds or small animals. Don’t let your cat kill and eat birds or rodents.
- Place a covering on your sandbox to prevent neighborhood cats from using it as a litter box.
- Proper hygiene, including washing hands after handling the litter box, before meals, cleaning soil from vegetables, and reducing exposure to cat feces can prevent infection.
- Anti-parasite medications for kittens and annual fecal exams for adult cats can reduce environmental contamination and the risk of human infection. Makes sure you keep your cat disease-free.
- To reduce environmental contamination, confine infected cats to one room at home until they are free of infection, then thoroughly clean and disinfect the household.
- Have an extra litter box than you have cats. The general rule of thumb dictates that if you have 3 cats, ensure you have at least 4 litter boxes.
- Place the litter box in a clean easy-to-access area at home, and ensure that it is large enough for the cat to use without spillage of cat poop onto the floor.
- Wear a face mask to protect you from inhaling any toxic fumes or overexposure to ammonia emanating from your cat’s litter box.
- Get an automatic litter box. This will ensure that you have minimum contact with your cat’s litter and it saves you on time and having to deal with smelly poop. You only have to change the litter. It’s a breeze!
Now you know what it takes to stay safe while living with your feline friend. Take good care of your kitty and her tray and you’ll live a healthy lifestyle.
Have you ever been infected with any of the illnesses I have outlined above? If yes, you now have a resource to guide you in staying disease-free.
Davis WilkinsDavis Wilkins is a dedicated cat lover, with three cats under his care. He grew up in a cat-loving family, nurturing these feline friends. As a result, he purposed to share his cat knowledge with the universe. Wilkins has been writing professionally for over four years, specializing in feline care with a keen interest in litter box care and handling. He hopes to help other feline lovers achieve their pet care goals.
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