CAT Stanley here again. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday. Personally, I’m glad the 4th of July is over. No more loud bangs…whew!
I’d like to talk to you about something really important today though. I imagine most of you follow the news, at least the big headlines. Well, if you’ve been following the news lately, you probably think women who own cats are committing suicide left and right, at an alarming rate. That’s because many of the major news sources have been reporting a link between toxoplasmosis and suicide. And more than a few not so major news outlets have picked up the story as well.
As most of you probably already know, toxoplasmosis is a parasite that is passed through contaminated cat feces. Now, I don’t want to make light of toxoplasmosis or the issues it causes, particularly when an unborn child or an immunosuppressed adult is exposed to it. But here’s the thing and it’s a critical thing to know: You’re more likely to get toxoplasmosis from eating uncooked meat or unwashed vegetables than you are from cleaning your cat’s litter box!
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here is, in part, what the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) has to say about toxoplasmosis and cats:
“People are unlikely to contract T. gondii infection from direct contact with their cats and, assuming the guidelines are followed, should feel comfortable keeping them in the household.”
There is much more information available at the CAPC site about toxoplasmosis.
For those of you who would like to listen to an audio podcast instead of reading, here’s a great AVMA podcast interview about toxoplasmosis with Dr. Jane Brunt, executive director of the CATalyst Council, and owner and director of the Cat Hospital at Towson in Baltimore.
Is it possible to prevent infection with toxoplasmosis? Yes, there are some easy things that you can do to reduce the risk of toxoplasmosis for both you and your cat.
To protect your cat:
- Avoid allowing your cat to hunt by keeping your cat indoors.
- Do not feed your cat raw or undercooked meats.
To protect yourself and your family:
- Clean the litter box daily. The organism that causes toxoplasmosis requires 1-5 days to reach a stage where it can infect a person.
- Wear gloves when cleaning the litter box and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
- Wash and/or peel all fruits and vegetables before eating.
- Cook all meats thoroughly before eating. Do not sample meats that are undercooked.
- Wear gloves when gardening or working in soil and/or sand. Wash your hands thoroughly when finished.
- Cover children’s sandboxes when not in use to avoid having them used as a litter box by neighborhood cats.
- Avoid drinking untreated water, particularly if travelling in less developed countries.
For more advice, check out the Center for Disease Control’s page on the prevention of toxoplasmosis.
Most of all, don’t give in to panic and fear. Yes, the headlines are scary but now you know the reality of the situation. Now you know that your pet cat is unlikely to pass this disease to you and you know what to do to look out for you and your cat. This is not a reason to get rid of your cat. In fact, getting rid of your cat won’t significantly decrease your risk of exposure to toxoplasmosis without implementing the other precautions anyway.