Cat owners may be at risk of catching Tuberculosis from their pet felines, UK experts have warned.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that growing numbers of domestic cats are being infected with the deadly form of tuberculosis that is normally found in cattle and badgers.
It is feared one in a thousand could be carrying the mycobacteria, a much higher number than first thought, the 'Daily Express' reported.
Cats may be picking up the disease while exploring countryside badger setts or coming into contact with infected rodents and cattle or contaminated milk, veterinarians believe.
The new research found that in one year 17 per cent of the 187 cats diagnosed with TB had the bovine strain.
Mycobacterium bovis known as bovine TB is the causative agent of tuberculosis in cattle and is related to Mycobacterium tuberculosis - the bacterium which causes the disease in humans. M bovis can also jump the species barrier and cause tuberculosis in humans.
"The potential incidence of feline mycobacteriosis is higher than previously thought. My biggest concern is this is spilling over from cattle and badgers into cats, and poses a risk to cats," said Professor Danielle Gunn-Moore, who led the research team.
Gunn-Moore said the risk of humans catching bovine TB from their pets was still "tiny", claiming that she has not seen any cases of humans being infected by cats.
However, UK's chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said that cats did present a growing threat to humans.
"Transmission to people is possible and has happened although the number of cases in pets is low. Cats seem to be more frequently infected and that could be because of the way they behave," Gibbens said.
"They roam and explore and could get into fights with infected feral cats and badgers themselves," Gibbens said.
The study was published in the journal Transboundary and Emerging Diseases.