Please note: I’m not a medical doctor or a veterinarian and nothing in this article should be considered medical or veterinary advice.
You step away from your plate of food for one second…and you come back to your feline friend nibbling, licking, or otherwise tasting whatever you were about to eat.
Should you be worried or can you still eat your food after your cat has licked it? If you want to play it 100% safe then you should throw out the food that your cat licked. While there are some infections that can be spread from you to your cat, like giardia, the risk is typically very low for most cats and most humans.
But let’s look a little closer at what’s going when a cat licks your food and the possible risks it presents.
Can Cats Carry Diseases?
If you didn’t know anything else about cats besides what diseases they could potentially transmit to humans then you’d probably terrified.
And rightfully so, the Center for Disease Control lists 15 different diseases that cats can transmit to their human companions ranging from hookworms and tapeworms to the actual plague.
But with 100’s of millions of cats in the world, you realize that maybe cats aren’t quite the prolific spreaders of disease that they might appear to be on paper. A big factor here is that the majority of cats that are sharing beds and bites with their humans are also healthy felines that probably stay indoors where they’re less likely to contract these infections in the first place.
People with healthy immune systems that aren’t immunocompromised are also likely to fight off many of these infections even if they are exposed to them.
What Zoonotic Diseases Could A Cat Transmit With A Lick?
Zoonotic diseases are those caused by germs or parasites that can infect both humans and animals. Out of the 15 zoonotic diseases found in cats as listed by the CDC, there are 7 that can be transmitted through contact with a cat’s poop.
Here’s the list:
And while it’s not directly transmitted via feces, the plague can also be transmitted if a cat were to cough or possibly lick your food. However, that’s still very unlikely and the plague is uncommon in most areas.
But what does cat poop have to do with our food?
After all, I thought we were talking about our cat licking our food and not pooping on it right?
Well, when is the last time you watched your cat run through a complete grooming session? Not to be gross, but I can tell you with certainty that your cat’s mouth is not safe from a little kitty feces. In fact, I’d say most cats would tell you that if you didn’t get a little feces in your mouth then you didn’t groom correctly.
Even with some vigorous grooming, your cat would still need to go from licking their hind end to licking your food in fast succession to successfully transfer an internal parasite. On top of that, you’d need to quickly eat the food, and then your immune system would need to fail to actually fight it off.
So while it’s technically possible, and has certainly happened, the chances of it occurring for most people are pretty low.
Cats Are Licking More Than Your Food
Before you completely swear off even eating near your cat, realize that your feline friend is licking a lot more than themselves and your food.
We’ve written almost a dozen articles about cats licking everything from people and shower curtains to more unusual items like windows and even blinds. In short, many cats just like to lick everything.
While you (hopefully) aren’t eating or licking all these items you are touching them in your daily life. Again, the risk of transmission is very low here so instead of trying to scare you into thinking your cat is contaminating everything there’s a better solution.
And that’s keeping your cat healthy!
Healthy Cats Don’t Spread Disease
Cats without any diseases can’t spread any disease, right?
Washing your hands and not sharing a meal with your cat are great ways to prevent contracting anything from your feline friend but if your cat is healthy to begin with then the risk is even lower- or even nonexistent.
One of the best ways to keep your cat healthy is to keep them indoors. Outdoor cats are exposed to dozens of additional risks ranging from being attacked by wild animals to being hit by a car or contracting diseases including the zoonotic parasites and infections that can spread to humans. As a result, indoor cats typically much longer than their outdoor counterparts and according to PetMD, “cats who are kept indoors can reach the ripe old age of 17 or more years, whereas outdoor cats live an average of just two to five years.”
Not only are indoor cats kept safe from the risks of the outdoors, by staying indoors cat parents are able to identify health issues early which increases the chances of successful treatment. In other words, if your cat is always indoors you’ll immediately notice the signs of an intestinal parasite in your feline friend.
Keep the Litterbox Clean
There’s a long list of reasons to keep the litterbox tidy and clean. Not only can it make your house smell better and make your cat happier, but it can also decrease the chances of disease transmission if your cat does have a parasite of some kind. Remember, your cat is grooming as much as 5 hours everyday and that includes their paws. The same paws they’re using to step over or on those cat poops in a dirty litterbox.
You see where this is going but a dirty litter box means a dirty cat mouth which will make you think twice before you decide to eat that slice of pizza after your cat had a lick.
Are You Immunocompromised?
While the risk of contracting a disease after your cat licks your food is low, if your immune system is already compromised then the risk is higher. In this case, it’s probably better to play it safe and defer to your doctor with any questions so you can get an answer that’s specific to your situation.
While you wouldn’t want to regularly share a pizza with your cat the risk of contracting something after your cat has a few licks of your food is pretty low. Preventing your cat from licking food you’re about to eat in is the best way to avoid this situation, but it’s also important to keep your cat healthy in the first place.
Healthy cats don’t have any diseases to spread and one of the best ways to keep our feline friends healthy and limit their exposure to parasites it to keep them indoors. Keeping the litterbox clean is another great options that’s not only common sense but also recommended by the CDC.
So are you throwing out any food item that your cat licks…or are you one of the brave few that proudly eats the food even if your cat has licked it?