It’s Cat Poop – OMG, Run for Your Life!
by Lorie Huston, DVM on July 12, 2013
Okay, I’ll admit right off that the title of this post is a little over the top. But that is, unfortunately, exactly what people are reading in the mainstream (and not so mainstream) media currently.
The cause for all this concern is a recently published article by E. Fuller Torrey and Robert H. Yolken in Trends in Parasitology entitled Toxoplasma oocysts as a public health problem. The alleged implications of this study have been picked up and shouted to the rooftops by media outlets like CNN, MSN, CBS, NPR, and more.
Here is the summary of the report:
“Waterborne outbreaks of Toxoplasma gondii have focused attention on the importance of oocysts shed in the feces of infected cats. Cat feces deposited annually into the environment in the United States total approximately 1.2 million metric tons. The annual oocyst burden measured in community surveys is 3 to 434 oocysts per square foot and is greater in areas where cats selectively defecate. Because a single oocyst can possibly cause infection, this oocyst burden represents a major potential public health problem. The proper disposal of cat litter, keeping cats indoors, reducing the feral cat population, and protecting the play areas of children might potentially reduce the oocyst burden.”
The problem is there’s really nothing terribly new in this report. We know cats can harbor toxoplasmosis and, under the right conditions, can pass it in their poop. We also know the precautions we need to take to keep this from happening. We’ve known these things for a long time now. What this report does do is give news outlets a chance to publish sensational headlines that use fear-mongering to hook readers. Unfortunately, these headlines and stories mean bad news for cats as the entire feline population unfairly becomes a scapegoat.
So, here’s a synopsis of what you need to know about toxoplasmosis in cats:
- Your indoor pet cat is not a threat to you as long as you don’t feed your cat raw meat.
- Wear gloves when you handle your cat’s litter box and wash your hands afterwards. Remove solid waste from the litter box daily.
- Cook all meat thoroughly before eating. You’re more likely to get toxoplasmosis from eating raw or improperly cooked meat than you are from your cat.
- Wash all vegetables and fruits thoroughly before eating.
- Wash your hands after gardening or working in dirt or soil, including potting soil.
- Consider having another family member take care of the litter box if you’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or are immunosuppressed.
I would add the following points as well:
- For most healthy people, toxoplasmosis is not a major threat if the proper precautions are taken. Most of these precautions are common sense hygienic measures. The links currently postulated between toxoplasmosis and brain disorders such as cancer, schizophrenia, depression, and suicidal thoughts are tenuous at best. The significance of these links, if any, is not known but toxoplasmosis has not currently been demonstrated to be a major primary cause of these diseases in otherwise healthy people. The two populations most at risk are pregnant women (or more specifically, the unborn fetus of a pregnant woman) and people who are immunosuppressed.
- Keep your pet cats indoors They’ll be safer that way anyway. Most importantly, don’t believe that you need to get rid of your cat to protect your own health or that of your family.
- Reducing the feral (or community) cat population does not and should not equate to the capture and killing of these populations. This only results in more feral cats as others move in to fill the void left by the previous population. Managed trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs are the best way to deal with feral cat populations. TNR is also the most humane method of dealing with the issue.
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About Lorie Huston, DVM Lorie Huston is an accomplished veterinarian, an award winning blogger, a talented author and a certified veterinary journalist. She is available for writing assignments, blogging and social media consultation, and SEO strategy.
This article is posted and shared through the courtesy of the Pet Health Care Gazette