PET CATS could be putting their owners at risk of catching tuberculosis, vets have warned.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have found that TB among domestic felines is a lot more common than previously thought – and could pose a risk to their human friends.
Experts have estimated that up to 100 in 100,000 cats could be infected with some form of tuberculosis.
Around a fifth of the cases are thought to be caused by the same bacterium found in cattle and badgers.
Vets believe that cats could be catching the disease from badgers and rodents, as well as from cattle and directly from milk.
Although many people in Britain have been inoculated against TB with the BCG injection, a growing number of people have not been vaccinated.
The former president of the British Veterinary Association has said that the latest discovery has to be looked at in relation to public health.
Carl Padgett, a former president of the British Veterinary Association said: “The real issue with cats with TB is that unless they are feral, they tend to have close contact with humans.
“That is where you ramp up a degree of the public health risk through direct contact with cats that have TB and that is where I see the importance, rather than driving the outbreak among cattle.
“The fact that we have this evidence that cats can suffer from bovis is good as it raises the awareness of veterinary surgeons to look out for it.
“We don’t want to get this out of proportion with suggestions that cats are the main spreader of TB. If that was the case, we would have seen a far greater incidence of TB in cats. We also don’t want to panic the general public that cats are a major health risk for TB, but there is something here that needs to be looked at.”
Professor Danielle Gunn-Moore who led the study said: “This study has revealed that the potential incidence of feline mycobacteriosis in Great Britain is higher than previously though.
“These findings suggest that these infections are a common cause of clinical significant disease in cats in Great Britain and more work needs to further improve our understanding of these infections.
“You need to be aware that cats are acting as sentinels for other small furries that are infected. You might clear the cattle, but if you don’t clear the cats as well, you could potentially get reinfection.”
Last week a seal pup was put down after contracting bovis TB from a badger bite.
A controversial cull of badgers to control TB is due to start in Gloucestershire and Somerset later this year.
Official figures released by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs show that it received just 80 cases of bovine TB in 2009. Nine of these were reported last year.