Mail Online’s clickbait title about domestic cat zoonoses is irresponsible

I like the Mail Online because they do have some good cat articles to encourage me to write but this one from the deputy health editor in America, Alexa Lardieri, is irresponsible and should not have been written.

The title states that pet cats are a ‘major harborer of deadly diseases’ and that cats were blamed for the first Alaskapox and the return of an ‘ancient plague’. Really, the title is ridiculous.

Note: ‘zoonosis’ (plural is ‘zoonoses’) means a disease that can be transmitted from animal to human. An alternative way of saying it is ‘zoonotic disease’. They are relatively rare. Covid-19 is an excellent, recent and devastating example thanks to irresponsible human behaviour. But the cat was not involved in this pandemic except to be a victim in getting the disease from humans (rarely).

Mail Online clickbait article gets it wrong on zoonoses affecting domestic cats
Mail Online clickbait article gets it wrong on zoonoses affecting domestic cats
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

In a comment to the Mail Online article, David from the UK said: “How have we survived all these years keeping cats as pets?” Point made.

And this from Worcester:

I have lived with cats all my life & have received the occasional scratch, funnily enough all the viruses I’ve had have come from humans.

Commentor on Mail Online

Human-to-human transmission far more common than cat-to-human

The first point to make is this: humans transmit far more diseases to themselves than cats because nearly all diseases that affect cats can only be transmitted between cats. Very few diseases affecting cats are zoonotic meaning that they can be transferred across the species from cat to human (or another animal) and vice versa.

Clickbait title

The title, which by the way is: “How your pet CAT is a major harborer of deadly diseases – after felines were blamed for first Alaskapox death and return of ancient plague”, gives us the impression that domestic cats spread disease to millions of people and are a major health problem for humankind. It’s unmitigated clickbait.

“Any number of deadly diseases!”

The author starts off by saying that “doctors warned they [cats] may be exposing you to any number of potentially deadly diseases.” So, cats expose their owners to a large number of deadly diseases. Is that correct? No, it certainly is not.

Bubonic plague

The reason why Alexa Lardieri has written her article is because we recently had a story from Oregon, USA about a resident in that state contracting bubonic plague allegedly from a cat.

When you write about the bubonic plague you think about the Black Death as it was called. You think about a large section of London’s residents being wiped out in 1665 and people hauling around carts by hand with diseased bodies in them.

Yes, the imagination runs riot. But let’s remember by the way that in the great plague of London in 1665 the authorities killed many cats because they thought that the cats spread the disease but it was the fleas on the rats that spread the disease. If they had left the cats alone, they would’ve killed the rats and there wouldn’t have been so many deaths.

Bubonic plague is very rare in America and it is a bacterial infection and therefore it is far less contagious than a viral infection. And it can be cured with antibiotics, a medicine that wasn’t available to Londoners in 1665.

Cats are ‘common’ carriers of disease – huge exaggeration

The Mail Online said that cats are common carriers of disease which is an exaggeration. The newspaper’s reporter also misquotes veterinarian Dr. Paola Cuevas. She DID NOT say: “cats are common carriers of disease because they are often domesticated animals that live and interact closely with humans but that also wander outside and hunt infested rodents and small mammals.” Dr Cuevas emailed me to tell me she did not say this.

Dr. Paola said:

Keep up to date with your cat’s vaccination and deworming schedules, and ensure your cat gets a complete health check at least once a year. Ensure your cat is free from external parasites like fleas or ticks, which can be vectors of several diseases that can infect not only your cat but also you if you get bitten.

Dr Cuevas

AND

 A cat is a definitive host and often carrier of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii and because it can infect a fetus transplacentally, it is not recommended for pregnant women to handle litterboxes.

Dr Cuevas

These statements are correct. Thank you, doctor, for your correction. Sad to say that it indicates the carelessness of the reporter and I’d argue that misquoting you in such a bad way reinforces my argument that the Mail Online’s author was interested in sensationalising their article.

I would say the following: “Domestic cats are not common carriers of disease. And a significant percentage of domestic cats nowadays live full-time indoors anyway. On top of that, not every domestic cat is a prolific hunter. Many domestic cat are often barely interested in hunting. They’ve lost a lot of their motivation over 10,000 years of domestication combined with being well fed in comfortable homes.” 😎

Toxoplasmosis

The newspaper goes on to talk about toxoplasmosis which is invariably raised by irresponsible news media. The truth about toxoplasmosis is very different to the one portrayed by many news media outlets.

RELATED: Truth about Toxoplasmosis and Cats

Rabies

And of course, the Mail Online refers to rabies which hasn’t been eradicated in America. But once again it is extremely rare in the United States thanks to widespread vaccination programs in which vaccination is obligatory.

Alley Cat Allies states that:

“There has not been a single confirmed case of cat-to-human rabies in the US in the past 40 years. In fact, only two human rabies cases have been attributed to cats since 1960.”

It is that rare in America for a cat to give rabies to a person and yet the Mail Online talks about it as if it’s a major human health issue. And they quote the CDC saying that an estimated 250 rabid cats were reported in the US each year but as mentioned cases of transmission to people are infinitesimally rare. This point needs to be made.

Unbalanced – cat abuse

I don’t like it when newspapers write these things in an unbalanced way because it can end up with cat abuse and it is our duty to promote animal welfare.

Alaskapox

Alaskapox is carried by small mammals. Once again this is a very rare zoonotic disease with just seven cases of the virus being reported since 2015. One man contracted it from stray cats according to the Mail Online. The symptoms are described as a mild illness which resolve themselves. Hardly a massive human health issue then!

I will leave it there. I have made my point. The Mail Online article is another subtle cat hating article in my view and if it is not that it is a click bait article which needs to be criticised by people like me.

RELATED: Be aware of Brucella canis a new zoonosis in the UK

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