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Can Foul Odors from Multiple Household Cats Cause Sickness to All Occupants?


Dear VetBabble: Can the Unpleasant Odor from Multiple Cats in a Household Make Everyone Sick?

One of our concerned readers asked us, “My sister who lives upstairs in our two-story house has several cats. The smell is awful! Is it what’s making everybody sick too? Is it possible but unlikely? Does everyone have the same symptoms? What have the doctors diagnosed?” As a warmhearted, friendly, and informative veterinarian, I am happy to provide some helpful insights that may benefit not only our reader but also other pet owners facing similar concerns.

In this article, we’ll explore the possible reasons for the odor caused by multiple cats in a household and how that might impact the health of the human inhabitants. We’ll cover three main sections: 1) Cat odors and possible health impacts, 2) Common feline illnesses that could potentially affect humans, and 3) Steps to manage and minimize unpleasant cat odors in your home.

1) Cat Odors and Possible Health Impacts

An unpleasant smell in a house with multiple cats might stem from various sources, such as soiled litter boxes, cat urine, fecal matter, or even an underlying health issue in one of the felines. It is essential to maintain proper hygiene and cleanliness to keep the odor at bay and minimize any potential adverse health impacts.

Generally speaking, if the household members maintain good hygiene and the cats are kept clean and healthy, the chances of the odor leading to illnesses in humans are relatively low. However, the unpleasant smell could contribute to headaches, nausea, or respiratory irritation, especially for individuals with allergies or asthma. Read more about Cat Allergies to better understand how your feline friends might impact those with sensitivities.

2) Common Feline Illnesses That Could Potentially Affect Humans

While most feline diseases are species-specific and do not transmit to humans, some diseases categorized as zoonotic could spread from cats to people. These are relatively rare, but it is essential to be aware of potential health risks.

One such example is feline upper respiratory infections, commonly referred to as “cat flu” or Feline Upper Respiratory Infection (FURI). These viral infections are not the same as human flu and typically do not pose a direct threat to humans. However, individuals with weak immune systems, such as young children or the elderly, could be more susceptible to health issues in case of close contact with an infected cat. Learn more about Does My Cat have a Flu and Feline Upper Respiratory Infection and How to Treat.

Another example is feline liver disease. While humans cannot contract liver disease directly from cats, individuals in close contact with an infected cat might be exposed to the same environmental factors or toxins that contributed to the animal’s illness. Read more about Liver Disease in Cats: Common Causes, Symptoms, and What to Expect to understand the potential risks and symptoms.

3) Steps to Manage and Minimize Unpleasant Cat Odors in Your Home

Keeping your home clean and odor-free with multiple cats is achievable by consistently following some essential practices:

  • Regularly clean and maintain litter boxes, ideally scooping waste daily and replacing the litter entirely at least once a week.
  • Invest in high-quality, odor-control cat litter that effectively neutralizes unpleasant smells.
  • Provide ample litter boxes (one per cat, plus one extra) to reduce overcrowding and encourage cats to use only designated areas for their waste.
  • Ensure proper ventilation throughout your home to allow fresh air circulation and minimize lingering odors.
  • Ensure your cats follow a balanced diet and have regular veterinary checkups to address any potential health issues that could contribute to foul smells.

By being informed, diligently keeping a clean living space, and addressing any concerns related to feline health, you can enjoy living with your multicat household without compromising your own health or well-being.

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