Are Irish people at risk of picking up TB from their pet cats?

TB in cats has hit the headlines in the last week, because, for the first time, there has been a confirmed case in the UK where TB infection passed from a cat to two humans. In the past, the risk of this happening was thought to be highly unlikely (officially classified as “negligible”) whereas now the risk is said to be “very low”. On the contrary, infected humans are more likely to infect companion animals. However, the risk of cats to be a source of infection for people should not be dismissed and must be considered when making treatment recommendations.

How do cats get TB?

Cats can get TB most often by being bitten by small rodents, so it’s more common in cats that hunt a lot. Most often cats have a single small lump on the skin – the vet removes it, has it analysed, and it turns out to be a form of TB. There are numerous different forms of TB, and the most common one in cats is NOT transmissible to humans at all. But there are some forms that can pass between cattle, badgers, rodents, cats and humans, and this is what is causing the problem.

Should you be worried?

Should most cat owners be worried? Definitely NOT. This is a rare disease.

To put this into context, 8751 cases of human TB were reported in the UK in 2012 (from other humans) whereas two people were confirmed as having picked it up from a cat

What if your cat gets TB?

If a cat has confirmed TB, the owner need to discuss the situation with their vet – every case is different

Euthanasia instead of treatment must be considered in cases of generalized involvement (i.e. liver, lungs etc as well as a skin nodule) and also in pets from households with immunocompromised members.

If a decision is made to treat, owners must be educated that therapy must be administered for a long period of time, usually at least 6-12 months. If owners are unable to commit to proper, long-term therapy (including financial commitments), euthanasia should be elected.

To summarise:

  • TB in cats is exceptionally rare
  • Even confirmed cases carry a very low risk of being passed on to humans
  • Your vet is the best person to give you advice if you are worried
  • If TB is confirmed
    • Treatment is possible but expensive and takes many months
    • In some cases, euthanasia is the wisest choice
  • Human safety must always come first

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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