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Study Finds Kissing And Cuddling Kittens Could Be Deadly For Cat Owners

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While a cat might have nine lives, you don't want your furry feline messing with yours. That's exactly what can happen if pet owners spend lots of time kissing and cuddling their kitties.

Cat lovers know how bipolar their pets can be. One minute, Garfield is begging to be pet, nudging your hand with his adorable little head, and the next minute, he has claws out on the attack as if to say he's had enough.

However, pet owners should beware if they are scratched — and when they are kissed by a kitten.

According to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting scratched by your cat could cause serious health complications and even death because of a bacterial infection passed along known as cat-scratch disease.

Cat-scratch disease, or cat-scratch fever, occurs when a cat who has the bacterial infection bites, scratches or licks an open wound on a human. The scratch has to be hard enough to break the surface in order for the bacteria to get in. If it does, the owner may get a swollen and red lesion that could also be filled with pus.

About 40 percent of cats carry the bacteria Bartonella henselae that causes the disease, which comes from flea bites getting in their wounds, from scratching and biting fleas or fighting with other infected cats. Infected cats commonly show no symptoms.

If passed on to their owner, the infection causes fever, headache, poor appetite and exhaustion. While cat-scratch disease is a mild infection that can easily be treated, it can be deadly for those who do not address it, the CDC warns.

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The CDC conducted a large-scale study on the bacterial infection, which consisted of examining MarketScan health insurance claims made between 2005 and 2013. The researchers found that each year, approximately 13,273 people were diagnosed with cat-scratch disease. However, 538 of these cases required hospitalization.

While cat-scratch disease is still rare, the study found that people who became seriously ill from the infection increased from 3.5 percent in 2005 to 2007 to 4.2 percent in 2011 to 2013.

Most people who get cat-scratch disease may have mild symptoms as mentioned above, but the researchers found that in more severe cases, people suffered from heart infections and brain swelling. If these complications go untreated, the disease could take a fatal turn.

The CDC found that kittens that are less than a year old are more likely to have the bacterium and spread it, mostly because they are more likely to scratch, bite and lick while playing with people. This means that cuddling with kittens could very well cost you your life if you aren't careful.

They also found that those who kissed their cats were at a higher risk of catching the infection, so owners should make sure their outdoor cats have the proper flea protection if they want to cuddle.

The best way to prevent cat-scratch disease is to wash your hands after playing, cuddling or petting a cat, avoid rough-housing with the cat to eliminate hard scratches, have the cat's nails trimmed regularly and ask your vet for the best products to combat fleas.

Photo: London looks | Flickr

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