This article will address many health risks posed to humans when living with their precious feline friends.
There are potential health risks involved with a cat litter box inside the home.
A litter box consists of various forms of litter: crystal cat litter, traditional clay litter, corn litter, etc., in addition to obvious urine and feces after use.
The following medical and scientific evidence will explain and outline not only the risks involved, but also provide solutions to lower those risks to your family and other pets.
Table of Contents
- Known Health Risks With Cat Urine and Feces
- Is Cat Feces Toxic or Poisonous to Humans?
- Is Cat Urine Dangerous for Humans?
- General Precautions When Handling Cat Litter
- Cat Urine and Cat Litter Boxes
- The Dangers of Cat Litter Dust
- Is Cat Litter Toxic to Humans?
- Is it Bad to Breathe in Cat Litter?
- Pregnancy and Litter Boxes
- The Dangers of Not Cleaning Cat Litter
- Litter Box Advice for Your Best Health
Known Health Risks With Cat Urine and Feces
Cat urine and cat feces can be potentially fatal to humans, and can potentially trigger breathing issues caused by certain cat litter fumes when the litter is in transit.
According to the National Pet Owners Survey 68% of US households, or about 85 million families, own a pet.
Of those families, 60 million own a dog (or both a dog and a cat) and 47.1 million households own a cat.
The actual number of cats in the US is 94.2 million–including stray and feral cats as well as homes with multiple cats.
Is Cat Feces Toxic or Poisonous to Humans?
Yes. Cat feces can spread E. coli and Toxoplasmosis, but not all cat waste contains these toxins.
A cat can become a carrier of toxoplasmosis parasites, which are present when cats eat rodents, birds, or other under-cooked or raw meat.
Escherichia Coli Bacterial Infection
Escherichia Coli Bacteria (E. coli) is a widely known illness that causes a whole host of issues, including severe abdominal cramps and bouts of diarrhea.
Cat feces can contain E. coli, which may pose as a health risk if inadvertently ingested by either children or other household pets such as dogs.
If cat feces is accidentally ingested from either the cat litter box or potential droppings on the cat’s paws, medical treatment (or antibiotics) is often required to cure any E. coli infections.
This is another common infection triggered by cat feces in accidental human consumption.
Adults working in the garden, or children playing outdoors should also be careful to avoid any droppings left outside.
If a woman is pregnant, then T. Gondii can be fatal to her fetus. Other individuals, such as the elderly or people with weakened immune systems should be extra vigilant and careful with this illness.
T. Gondii is the parasite that leads to toxoplasmosis. Cats act as carriers of this parasite, and it escapes through their feces in the form of oocysts.
These oocysts are small microorganisms that rapidly reproduce with an incubation period of between 1-5 days, so regular daily cleaning of the litter pan limits the likeliness of issues.
Symptoms of the illness are a high fever with severe bouts of diarrhea; some studies show that it can even alter personalities.
Some cases have shown that for infected women, 54% were more likely to attempt suicide, with other disturbing side effects.
Roundworm Eggs and Larvae Toxocara Cati
Another disturbing toxin in cat litter is roundworms with their larvae.
Roundworms are intestinal parasites that are common in kittens and cats. The first type is known as Toxocara cati.
This is seen commonly, especially in small kittens, normally occurring from when kittens ingest their mother’s milk, or from cats eating rodents.
When cats eat rodents, they ingest the parasites into their lungs, eventually coughing them up. These larvae can infect humans.
Once the larvae become adult roundworms in the intestines, they lay eggs, which are passed in cat feces.
The second type of roundworms is known as Toxascaris leonina, and is less common–usually seen in older cats.
In almost all cases, this larvae does not infect humans. A vet’s treatment depends on the age and condition of your cat.
In terms of the impact on humans, these infections are most common in children, or gardeners who inadvertently come into contact with these parasites or eggs in the soil.
Is Cat Urine Dangerous for Humans?
Yes. Cat urine is more than just a potent smell–it also emits ammonia, leading to allergic reactions in both adults and children.
In fact, children have a lighter body weight and a lower immunity to ammonia, leaving them at an even higher risk than adults. Anyone else with a compromised immune system or respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis, pneumonia, COPD, or asthma share that elevated risk.
Typical symptoms of an ammonia allergy include coughing, vomiting, general nausea, headaches, sneezing, itchy skin (especially around the nose area), dizziness, and red eyes.
General Precautions When Handling Cat Litter
- Always wear gloves while working outside, and wash your hands after working to prevent skin contact with animal urine and feces.
- Encourage children to wash their hands after playing outside or playing with pets.
- Be mindful of children’s open sand boxes or sand pits, because cats may use them as a cat box, increasing risk to children’s exposure. Cover up sand pits when not in use, or bring them inside a garage or shed.
- Always wash fruits and vegetables from the garden before consuming them to reduce exposure risk to these illnesses. It’s good practice to wash store-bought fruits and vegetables as well, in case they weren’t thoroughly washed in the packaging process.
- Wash your hands or wear gloves when cleaning litter boxes.
Cat Urine and Cat Litter Boxes
A good rule-of-thumb is to not place a cat litter tray directly on a carpeted area.
Often, cats will miss the litter box and pass urine on the carpet (either on accident or in an attempt at privacy behind the litter box). If a cat does miss the litter box, it is important to clean it as quickly as possible.
To clean any urine areas, do not rub the stain, rather, wear gloves and dab the area clean to absorb as much urine as possible.
Use hydrogen peroxide commercial cleaners, vinegar, baking soda, or disinfectants to kill the bacteria as quickly as possible.
Never use ammonia based cleaners as they react with the urine ammonia and only make the mess worse.
One useful tip is to use either a pine sawdust, bentonite clay, or a cedar sawdust in the litter. These are known to quickly absorb urine while preventing urine crystals and ammonia from forming.
Lining a cat litter box is also helpful. In addition to liners, an automatic litter box can make the task even simpler–albeit they may be more expensive.
The Dangers of Cat Litter Dust
Cat litter dust is caused when cat litter is being transported. Dust is not an ingredient, rather, it forms when the litter particles rub together in transit. A kitten or animal close to the ground has a higher risk of breathing in microscopic particles.
Please refer to the section below for more information on silica dust that is found in some litters.
Is Cat Litter Toxic to Humans?
No. Cat litter, in itself, is not poisonous or toxic to humans. The product alone isn’t a biohazard until it becomes contaminated with feces or urine.
Is Cat Litter Toxic for Toddlers and Babies?
No. Cat litter isn’t toxic, but children inadvertently sometimes play with contaminated litter.
Children may also be exposed by a cat or kitten “trailing or tracking” contaminated litter on their paws as well.
“Tidy Cat Breeze” is a litter designed to help solve this problem. This litter does not attach to cat’s paws, reducing the risk of spread.
Another recommendation is “World’s Best Cat Litter” as it is a natural cat litter.
Also, when applicable, use a covered litter box and face the opening towards the wall. Ideally, the litter box will be completely out of reach for any babies, infants, or toddlers, by implementing a baby gate.
Is it Bad to Breathe in Cat Litter?
Silicosis is a lung disease that causes inflammation of the lungs causing breathing difficulty.
This occurs after silica dust is inhaled by pets. Silica litter has silica dust as an ingredient. Sodium bentonite can also trigger issues as well.
Little research has been done to test the harm in humans, but human sensitivity is also of concern.
A solution around this concern is to purchase cat litter without sodium bentonite and to use wheat litter, natural litter, or corn litter instead. A dust mask is a good precautionary tool as well.
If you inhale contaminated kitty litter dust, the toxoplasmosis parasites, mentioned previously, can get into your system.
Pregnancy and Litter Boxes
Anyone who is pregnant or considering a pregnancy should never clean or be anywhere near a cat litter box, as cat feces may carry toxoplasma gondii and can affect the immune system of a pregnant woman, or affect her fetus.
According to the Centers Disease of Control and Prevention, pregnant women should avoid adopting a new cat, a kitten or a stray cat, and should avoid changing cat litter.
If no one else can perform the task, pregnant women should wear disposable gloves and wash their hands with soap and warm water afterwards.
The Dangers of Not Cleaning Cat Litter
To avoid any potential risk, it is imperative to keep the cat litter box clean. That means daily and even twice daily removal of feces and clumped litter.
It is also highly recommended that the litter is fully replaced once a week.
Cats do not like dirty litter boxes, and they will stop using them if they become too smelly. Aside from that, dirty cat boxes are a breeding grounds for bacteria if not regularly cleaned.
Litter Box Advice for Your Best Health
- Do not place litter boxes in a kitchen or anywhere that you eat.
- Clean the litter clumping at least once a day.
- Always wash your hands every time that you replace or clean litter.
- Change the litter completely once a week.
- Seal and dump the litter in a plastic bag or liner and never dump it straight into the trash.
- Wash the litter box once a week with hot water and a mild detergent.
- If your immune system is low such as when pregnant, then stay away from changing cat litter.
Cats that live indoors pose a much lower risk than cats who are both indoors and outdoors, but using these helpful tricks can help you and your furry feline friends live a harmonious home life with plenty of smiles – even when your cat goes on ultimate outdoor adventures.
CDC Government website – Centers Disease of Control and Prevention