The Spotlight on Whether Stray Cats Can Make A Dog Sick

There are plenty of reasons to be wary of a stray cat that doesn’t appear to be in the best of health. Among them is the risk of the animal passing on whatever ails it to other pets in your house.

Can a stray cat make a family dog sick? In a word, yes. Though the number of diseases that can be freely passed from cats to dogs is relatively small, those that can be passed are passed pretty easily. All are very treatable if they are caught in time.

As with most things pertaining to stray cats, paying attention to the little things can help mitigate the risk of your dog getting sick after interacting with a stray.

Here are 8 things to know about stray cats possibly passing diseases on to the family dog:

1. Cross-Species Transmission Is Rare

The first thing to note is that it is pretty difficult for most diseases to make the jump from one species to another. For example, cross-species transmission of viruses and bacteria is not that common. There are only a few known bacterial diseases that can be transmitted from cats to dogs, and even fewer viral diseases.

As far as zoonotic diseases are concerned, they are even more rare. A zoonotic disease is one that can be transmitted from animal to human. Some scientists contend that rabies is the only true zoonotic disease in the sense that its transmission is direct. But even among scientists that adopt a more liberal definition of the term, there is agreement that humans have very little to worry about in terms of contracting animal-specific diseases.

Zoonotic Diseases in Depth

Let’s look at zoonotic diseases a bit closer. These are infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites that spread from animals (in this case, cats) to humans. This cross-species transmission often occurs when humans come into direct contact with the saliva, blood, urine, or feces of an infected animal. In other instances, a bite or scratch from an infected animal, or the bite of an insect such as a tick or mosquito that has fed on an infected animal, could transmit the disease.


One prime example of a zoonotic disease that can potentially be carried by stray cats is toxoplasmosis. This disease is caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Cats are the only known definitive hosts where this parasite can complete its life cycle, but it can affect and live within many other mammals, including humans. The transmission can occur if a person inadvertently ingests the parasite, perhaps by handling cat litter and then touching their mouth, or by consuming food or water contaminated with cat feces.

Cat Scratch Disease

Another important zoonotic disease that can be transmitted from cats to humans is Cat Scratch Disease, also known as Bartonellosis. This is caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae, which can be found in the saliva and fur of infected cats. A scratch or bite from an infected cat can transmit the bacteria to humans. Although it might sound menacing, the disease usually results in mild symptoms including fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes.

However, it’s worth noting that while stray cats can potentially carry these diseases, the risk of transmission to humans or other pets is relatively low, especially when proper hygiene and precautionary measures are taken. In the case of toxoplasmosis, for instance, many cats that contract the parasite develop immunity and eliminate the parasite from their system. Nevertheless, understanding these risks allows us to be better prepared and proactive in maintaining the health of our families and our pets.

2. Intestinal Parasites Are Easily Passed

Among all of the illnesses passed between dogs and cats, intestinal parasites are the most common. Parasites like hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms can live in the intestines of all kinds of mammals. They are passed between cats and dogs after one of the animals is exposed to the feces of another infected animal.

Tapeworms are a notable example of how intestinal parasites are passed from animal to animal. There are several ways these parasites can be passed. The first way, although it sounds terribly unappetizing to human beings, is for dogs to eat the feces of infected cat. This is not as unusual as it sounds.

Animal feces are not just waste to dogs. They are also a source of nutrition. What a cat leaves behind may meet a nutritional deficiency you do not know your dog is suffering from. At any rate, pieces of tapeworm or tapeworm eggs in those feces can make their way into the intestines of a dog that eats feces.

Another possibility is the dog stepping in cat feces and then later licking its paws. Any eggs in the feces are easily ingested this way. And even that is not the end of the possibilities. Here’s a third one: a flea ingesting a tapeworm egg found on a cat can transfer that egg to a dog just by landing on the animal’s skin. That dog may eat the flea to stop the itching, thereby ingesting the egg.

3. Signs and Symptoms of Infection in Dogs

Whether you’re a seasoned pet owner or a newbie, one of the crucial skills to acquire is understanding and identifying the signs of possible infections in your beloved canine companion. Recognizing these symptoms early allows for prompt medical intervention, which can be lifesaving in some cases.

When it comes to intestinal parasites, there are a few tell-tale signs that might indicate an infection. For instance, you might observe:

  1. Diarrhea: While occasional loose stools can occur due to dietary changes or stress, persistent diarrhea often signifies an underlying health issue, such as intestinal parasites.
  2. Weight loss: Despite normal or increased appetite, your dog may experience unexplained weight loss. This is because intestinal parasites can prevent your dog from properly absorbing and utilizing nutrients.
  3. Vomiting: While not exclusive to parasitic infections, regular or frequent bouts of vomiting can be an indication of intestinal worms.
  4. Changes in coat condition: A dull, dry, or coarse coat can be a sign of poor nutrition, often resulting from parasites robbing your dog of necessary nutrients.
  5. Visible worms in feces or vomit: This is a clear sign of a heavy parasitic infestation and warrants immediate veterinary attention.

Distinct Symptoms for Specific Parasites

Specific parasites can also cause certain unique symptoms. For instance, heartworms, a type of parasitic worm that lives in the heart and major blood vessels, can cause symptoms such as coughing, fatigue, and difficulty breathing in dogs. Tapeworms, on the other hand, often manifest as white, rice-like segments seen in your dog’s feces or around their rear end.

The above symptoms, especially when persistent or in combination, should trigger concern and prompt action. While it’s important to remain observant and vigilant, remember that prevention is the best form of treatment. Regular veterinary check-ups and preventative medications can go a long way in keeping your furry friend healthy and parasite-free.

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4. Ringworm Can Be Passed

Despite the name of this disease, ringworm is not an intestinal parasite. It is actually the result of a fungal infection. Ringworm is easy to spot because it causes hair loss in patchy areas around the ears, on the forelimbs, and on the face. The disease takes its name from the red rings that normally appear in areas of hair loss.

The worst part of ringworm is how easily it is passed between animals. It doesn’t take much. The spores that cause the disease can live for up to a year under the right conditions. So if your dog comes into physical contact with an infected cat, the spores can easily travel between the two. Your dog can begin exhibiting symptoms of ringworm shortly thereafter.

Ringworm can also be carried to your dog by way of food dishes, pet toys, and even your clothing. This is why we recommend people thoroughly wash themselves and their clothes after coming in contact with a cat showing symptoms of ringworm. Once ringworm is established among household pets, it is extremely difficult to eradicate.

5. Dogs and Cats Can Get Colds

We normally think of the common cold as a condition that only affects human beings. That assumption is true, but only to a certain degree. Both cats and dogs can contract a similar illness known as bordetella bronchiseptica – a.k.a. kennel cough. This is a bacterial infection that causes cold and flu-like symptoms mimicking what humans experience with the common cold.

Kennel cough tends to be more severe for dogs than cats, which is why you want to be careful if a stray cat in your neighborhood is exhibiting symptoms. Kennel cough causes fever, coughing, sneezing, lethargy, and a discharge from both the eyes and nose. If you haven’t picked up on it, kennel cough is a respiratory illness.

Unfortunately, this disease is easily spread between cats and dogs. Like the common human cold, the bacteria responsible for kennel cough can be transmitted through casual contact. All it takes is a little bit of saliva transmitted through the air by way of a cough or sneeze. And of course, an infected cat licking your dog can also transmit the bacteria.

If you suspect either your dog or a stray cat has kennel cough, keep an eye on it. Most animals recover just fine on their own. Should you need to take the animal to the vet, an intranasal vaccine will likely be administered. The vet might also ask how you think the animal might have contracted the disease.

6. Your Dog Can Get Rabies

The big disease most dog lovers are terribly afraid of is rabies. Such fears are completely reasonable if you understand that rabies can be fatal. The problem with rabies is that it is usually not diagnosed until it is too late. By the time a cat or dog begins exhibiting signs of rabies, it cannot be treated. Most animals diagnosed with rabies eventually die from the disease. And yes, your dog can get rabies from an infected cat.

Rabies is transmitted through saliva. One of the most common ways it is passed between animals is through bites. But your dog doesn’t have to be bitten by a diseased cat to be infected. Any contact with saliva could transmit the disease.

Because of the deadly nature of rabies, there are laws in all 50 states requiring rabies vaccinations for all household pets capable of contracting the disease. That means your dog has likely been vaccinated. However, a single vaccination doesn’t last forever. The reason you are required to take your dog in for a new vaccination every few years is to keep the animal protected for as long as it lives.

Of course, it is always better to protect your dog by keeping it away from a rabid animal to begin with. But that might be easier said than done if you are dealing with a stray cat infected with the disease but not yet exhibiting symptoms.

Prevention Measures for Pets

Preventing the transmission of diseases from stray cats to your pet dog involves a multifaceted approach. First and foremost, you need to ensure your dog has received the necessary vaccinations. While this was mentioned earlier, its importance cannot be understated. Vaccines prepare your dog’s immune system to fight the invasion of specific diseases, offering the best chance of protection against harmful infections.

However, vaccination isn’t the only preventive measure you can take. It’s crucial to also focus on maintaining good hygiene and sanitation practices. This means regular grooming and bathing of your pet, as well as the disinfection of their living spaces and any items they frequently come into contact with, such as toys, food bowls, and bedding. Use pet-safe products to ensure you’re effectively killing bacteria and parasites without causing harm to your pet.

Limiting Contact

Another critical aspect of preventing infections is limiting your pet’s contact with stray animals. While it might be hard to control your pet’s behavior during outdoor walks or playtime, you can still take precautions. For instance, maintaining a secure yard and keeping your dog on a leash when in public places can reduce the likelihood of unexpected encounters with strays. If you notice a stray animal, especially one that looks unwell, it’s best to avoid it and, if possible, inform local animal control or a rescue organization.

Routine Health Check-ups

Just like humans, pets also benefit from routine health check-ups. Regular visits to the vet help monitor your pet’s health and can lead to early detection of any diseases or abnormalities, increasing the chances of successful treatment. By combining regular vet visits with the aforementioned measures, you’ll be taking a comprehensive approach to your pet’s health, giving them the best chance to lead a long, happy, and disease-free life.

Remember, the goal is not just to treat diseases once they occur, but to implement strategies that can prevent them in the first place. While it might seem like a lot of work, these preventative measures are an integral part of responsible pet ownership and ensure a safe and comfortable life for your four-legged friends.

7. Length of Time Matters

The next thing you need to know is that the length of time a cat has been a stray matters in terms of potential diseases. It is a simple exercise in math. Bearing in mind that strays are former household pets that either wandered away from home or were abandoned by their owners, it is reasonable to assume that strays are in relatively good health at the point they first find themselves alone.

Provided a stray eats properly and stays away from other infected animals, its heath should remain fairly stable for the rest of its life. But the chances of that happening are not good. The longer a cat remains living as a stray, the more likely it will contract some sort of disease. It is one of the realities of nature.

Veterinary Treatment Options

When it comes to the health and wellness of your beloved pet, the role of a qualified veterinarian cannot be overstated. If your dog contracts a disease from a stray cat, a timely visit to the vet is crucial. The veterinary treatment your dog may require largely depends on the specific disease contracted.

Medicinal Treatments

Most common diseases transmitted from stray cats to dogs, such as rabies, ringworm, and intestinal parasites, can be treated with appropriate medication. For instance, bacterial infections like kennel cough are typically treated with antibiotics to eliminate the infection.

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Antifungal treatments are used for conditions like ringworm. Depending on the severity of the infection, topical creams or oral medications may be prescribed. Similarly, parasitic infections like hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms can be treated with specific deworming medications.


Preventive measures often include vaccinations, particularly against fatal diseases like rabies. Regular vaccination is crucial in protecting your dog from potential threats. In the unfortunate event that your pet hasn’t been vaccinated and is exposed to a disease like rabies, immediate medical intervention with a post-exposure vaccine can be a life-saving measure.

Surgical Interventions

In rare cases, your dog might require surgical intervention. For instance, if your dog contracts a severe parasitic infection that causes intestinal obstruction, surgery might be needed to remove the blockage and save your pet’s life.

Post-Treatment Care and Monitoring

Post-treatment care is as important as the treatment itself. It ensures your pet’s complete recovery and prevents potential relapses. Your vet will provide specific guidelines based on the treatment received. These can range from dietary changes and administration of medications to wound care if surgery was performed.

In the end, maintaining regular veterinary check-ups for your dog will ensure their health and safety. While we can’t always prevent our pets from being exposed to stray animals, we can be proactive in their healthcare and take quick action at the first sign of illness.

8. Fleas Can Be Passed On

Flea infestations do not count as diseases, but I decided to include them here because of how common they are. Any stray cat with fleas is very likely to pass those fleas on to every other animal it comes in contact with. The cat can even pass them on to you, if you are ‘lucky’.

A flea is a flightless insect that survives mainly due to its parasitic nature. Fleas are found all over the world in both natural and domestic settings. In fact, there are some 2,500 different species of fleas discovered by science thus far. They attach themselves to mammals and birds alike, feeding on the blood of their hosts.

As fleas are flightless, they have to jump from one host to the next. But make no mistake, they are excellent jumpers in every sense. Even casual contact between animals can transmit fleas from an infested cat to an otherwise healthy dog. Also note that fleas are prolific breeders. It only takes a few fleas in your home to end up with a full-blown infestation in a matter of weeks.

All the other diseases aside, fleas are the first thing to worry about when you encounter a stray cat. The last thing you want is to be a carrier back to your own home. If you do notice that a stray has fleas, make sure none have made the jump to your clothing or skin before going back into the house.

Educating Children About Stray Animals

Children, with their innate curiosity and love for animals, are often magnetically drawn to stray animals, particularly cats, that they might encounter on their way home from school or during a family walk in the park. However, it’s crucial that parents equip their young ones with the right knowledge to ensure their safety, as well as that of any family pets.

The Risks Associated with Stray Cats

First and foremost, it’s important to explain to children the possible risks associated with stray cats. They should understand that stray cats, while often appearing friendly or in need, may carry diseases or parasites like fleas that can affect their health or the health of their pet dogs. Explain these risks in a simple and non-scary manner, helping them understand why it’s safer to admire stray cats from a distance.

Teaching Empathy and Respect

Despite the risks, it’s equally important to teach children empathy and respect for all living creatures, including strays. Encourage them to express their love for animals in safer and more beneficial ways such as participating in or advocating for community efforts for the welfare of stray animals.

The Right Way to Interact

If the stray cat seems healthy and friendly, and you have decided to let your child interact with it, supervise their interaction closely. Teach your child the right way to approach and touch a cat. The emphasis should be on calm, slow movements and gentle touches. Remember to instruct them to wash their hands thoroughly after any contact with stray animals.

When to Seek Adult Help

Lastly, make sure children know that they should always inform an adult if they encounter a stray animal that seems sick, injured, or unusually aggressive. This way, appropriate steps can be taken to ensure the safety of everyone involved, including the stray animal.

By providing children with this knowledge, parents can not only safeguard their children and pets but also instill a lifelong respect and care for animals in their young ones. Remember, safety doesn’t have to mean fear. Instead, it can be a valuable lesson about coexistence and empathy for all living beings.

9. Approach Sick Animals with Caution

I’ll begin this section with a standard warning of safety. The best way to prevent your family dog from contracting a disease carried by a stray cat is to approach all sick animals with caution. Do not just assume that a stray cat is healthy because it looks that way. Sometimes a medical exam is the only way to know that a cat is sick.

Always approach a stray cat with the understanding that you will not touch it until you are reasonably sure the animal is well. If you’re forced to come in contact with the cat before making that call, wash yourself and your clothing thoroughly afterwards. There is no point in taking unnecessary risks.

Should you have to approach a stray cat that looks visibly ill, protect yourself. Wear long sleeves and pants along with rubber gloves and eye protection. And if the animal appears aggressive, just leave it alone. You will not be able to help an aggressive cat anyway.

10. Community Response to Stray Animals

Stray animals, particularly cats, can be a common sight in many neighborhoods, and their well-being is often a matter of public concern. Simultaneously, it’s important to manage the potential risks they may pose to pets and humans, particularly when it comes to disease transmission.

Responsible Feeding Practices

For many, the first instinct when encountering a stray cat may be to offer food. While this is a noble sentiment, it’s crucial to consider the implications. Providing food can inadvertently lead to overpopulation, as it encourages breeding and can attract even more stray cats to the area. If you choose to feed a stray cat, it’s recommended to pair this with a commitment to having them spayed or neutered to control the population. Many communities offer Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs, which humanely trap stray cats, neuter them, and then return them to their environment.

Involving Local Animal Services and Shelters

Coordinating with local animal services or shelters is another effective method of handling stray animals. These organizations can offer valuable guidance, and in some cases, can assist with trapping and rehoming strays. Their intervention can also ensure that the strays get the medical attention they might need, including necessary vaccinations.

Educating the Public

Public education plays a crucial role in handling the stray animal population responsibly. Community-wide initiatives can spread awareness about the risks associated with stray animals, the importance of spaying and neutering pets, and appropriate steps to take when encountering a stray animal. These initiatives can range from information campaigns, school programs, to community events promoting responsible pet ownership.

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Encouraging Adoption

Finally, promoting the adoption of stray cats can drastically improve their quality of life and simultaneously reduce potential risks associated with their presence in the community. Remember, today’s stray cat could be tomorrow’s beloved pet. A broad approach that encourages community involvement, supports local animal services, and emphasizes responsible practices can contribute to a safe and humane solution to the issue of stray animals.

Can a Stray Cat Make My Dog Sick – Conclusion

In conclusion, while it is possible for a stray cat to make your dog sick, the risks can be minimized with proper precautions and care. Regular veterinary check-ups, preventative medications, and avoiding contact with sick or infested strays can all go a long way in keeping your furry friend healthy and parasite-free. At the same time, it’s important to teach children empathy and respect for all living creatures, including strays, while also being aware of the potential risks they may pose to pets and humans. With the right approach, we can coexist with strays in a way that is safe and beneficial for everyone involved.

Key Takeaways

  1. Stray cats can pass on diseases to dogs, but cross-species transmission is rare.
  2. Dogs can get sick from ingesting fleas or tapeworm eggs found on or in stray cat feces.
  3. Ringworm is easily passed between animals and causes patchy hair loss.
  4. Dogs can contract rabies from infected cats through saliva contact.
  5. Vaccination and good hygiene practices are important for protecting dogs from disease transmission.
  6. Flea infestations are common in stray cats and can easily spread to other animals.
  7. It’s best to avoid aggressive stray cats and not attempt to handle them.
  8. Community response to stray animals, particularly cats, is important for their wellbeing.


Q: Can a stray cat make my dog sick? A: Yes, a stray cat can potentially make your dog sick. While cross-species disease transmission isn’t common, certain conditions such as parasites, ringworm, kennel cough, and rabies can be passed from cats to dogs.

Q: How can my dog get sick from a stray cat? A: Diseases can be transmitted through various ways such as direct contact, exposure to feces, or through vectors like fleas.

Q: What diseases can my dog contract from a stray cat? A: Dogs can contract several diseases from stray cats including rabies, ringworm, intestinal parasites, and kennel cough, among others.

Q: Can my dog get rabies from a stray cat? A: Yes, if a stray cat is infected with rabies and it bites or somehow transmits its saliva to your dog, your dog can contract rabies.

Q: What are the signs that my dog may be sick after interacting with a stray cat? A: Signs your dog may be sick include changes in behavior, loss of appetite, coughing, sneezing, lethargy, fever, discharge from the eyes and nose, or signs of external or internal parasites.

Q: What should I do if my dog has been in contact with a stray cat? A: If your dog has been in contact with a stray cat, it’s recommended to monitor their behavior closely for any changes, and consult a vet if you notice any signs of illness.

Q: How can I prevent my dog from getting sick after interacting with a stray cat? A: The best way to prevent your dog from getting sick is to avoid contact with stray cats whenever possible. Also, regular vet check-ups and vaccinations can keep your dog healthy.

Q: Are there any risks to humans from stray cats? A: Yes, certain diseases such as rabies and ringworm can also be transmitted to humans from stray cats.

Q: Is it safe to feed stray cats? A: While feeding stray cats can seem compassionate, it may unintentionally encourage overpopulation. If you choose to feed stray cats, consider involving a local Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program to prevent further population growth.

Q: What should I do if I find a stray cat in my neighborhood? A: If you find a stray cat in your neighborhood, you can contact local animal services or shelters who can provide appropriate assistance.

Q: How can I help reduce the risk of disease transmission from stray cats? A: Responsible practices such as regular vet visits for your pets, avoiding direct contact with strays, participating in TNR programs, and supporting local shelters can help reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Q: Can my dog get fleas from a stray cat? A: Yes, fleas can easily be transmitted from stray cats to dogs. Regular flea treatments for your dog can help prevent infestations.

Q: Can diseases be transmitted from stray cats to other pets like birds or rabbits? A: While it’s less common, certain diseases or parasites could potentially be transmitted to other pets. It’s always best to keep your pets separated from stray animals and maintain their regular vet checks.

Q: Can my dog get kennel cough from a stray cat? A: Yes, kennel cough can be passed from stray cats to dogs. Symptoms include fever, coughing, sneezing, lethargy, and discharge from the eyes and nose. If you notice these symptoms in your dog, consult with a vet promptly.

Q: Is there a way to distinguish a stray cat from a feral cat? A: Yes, stray cats are usually domestic cats that have been lost or abandoned, while feral cats are wild and have had little to no human contact. Stray cats are often more comfortable around humans and may seek out human company, whereas feral cats tend to be extremely wary of people.

Q: Can my dog contract diseases from a feral cat? A: Yes, the same risks associated with stray cats apply to feral cats. They can transmit diseases to your dog through direct contact or exposure to their feces or parasites.

Q: How can I help a stray cat without putting my dog at risk? A: One of the best ways to help a stray cat without putting your dog at risk is by contacting a local animal shelter or rescue group. They can help ensure the cat is healthy, provide necessary vaccinations, and find it a safe home.

Q: Can my dog contract a disease from a stray cat through indirect contact? A: Yes, indirect contact, such as through shared food bowls, toys, or even your own clothing, can potentially lead to disease transmission.

Q: What are some common symptoms of rabies in cats? A: Symptoms of rabies in cats can include changes in behavior, difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, staggering, seizures, paralysis, and ultimately, death. Rabies is a fatal disease and should always be considered a serious risk.

Q: What are the risks of letting my dog interact with a stray cat? A: The primary risk is disease transmission. Dogs can contract several diseases from stray cats, including parasites, ringworm, kennel cough, and rabies.

Q: Can regular vaccinations protect my dog from diseases carried by stray cats? A: While vaccinations cannot prevent every disease, they can protect against many serious illnesses such as rabies. Regular vet check-ups and parasite preventatives can also help keep your dog healthy.

Q: What can I do to prevent stray cats from coming into my yard? A: To prevent stray cats from entering your yard, you can try using animal-friendly repellents, securing your trash bins, and avoiding leaving pet food outside which could attract them.

Q: Is it safe to let my dog play with a stray cat? A: While it might seem harmless, it’s generally not safe to let your dog play with a stray cat due to the potential risk of disease transmission. It’s always better to be safe and prevent any unnecessary contact.


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