science

Can You Actually be a ‘Crazy’ Cat Lady?

We’ve all known somebody we thought would one day become a “crazy-cat lady”, and if we didn’t know them, then we were them.  In my opinion, loving cats and being able to give healthy and good lives to animals that otherwise wouldn’t have a home is not a bad thing.  Honestly, even whipping out your phone to show people funny videos of your cat chasing a laser pointer is perfectly acceptable.  However, for some people hoarding cats may not be out of love, but out of being compelled by Toxoplasma Gondii.

T. gondii is one of the most common parasitic diseases. It can affect basically any warm blooded animal.  In humans, the source of infection can be unwashed produce and infected meat OR through infected cat feces.  About one third of the world’s population is infected with Toxoplasmosis, but for most people, the immune system is able to keep the parasite from causing illness.  The parasite is most dangerous to those with suppressed immune systems and pregnant woman, as it can cause spontaneous abortions.

So what is the relevance to cats?  Toxoplasmosis affects around 30-40% of domestic cats. Cats normally pick up the parasite through the environment, in either dirt or through contaminated feces.  Because it is more prevalent in the environment, you are more likely to see outdoor cats or feral cats with the parasite compared to strictly house cats.  That means that if you have a cat infected with toxoplasmosis, you are likely to contract it, and in cases where the owner has a compromised immune system it can put them at risk for severe infection.  Severe infection causes damage to your brain, eyes, and other major organs, and there is research linking it to schizophrenia.  In rats, the damage the parasite can do to the brain actually makes them attracted to cat urine, making them an easier target for kitten prey, however this data has not been tested in humans.  If the same effects were to happen in people though, it would explain why those with a lot of cats are continually compelled to get more.

So, should I be worried about my cat?  Short answer, no.  There are many ways to prevent the spread of toxoplasmosis even if your cat does have it, and eventually, if your cat is not continuously exposed to it, it will naturally shed the parasite through feces.  The easiest way to prevent your cat from contracting the parasite is to keep them as indoor cats (and in the future I will explain why I think domestic cats should be indoors all the time anyways).  For humans, prevention is very easy.  Firstly, cook your meats fully through.  There are guidelines on the CDC website for the safe consumption of meat and poultry products to prevent contraction of many different parasites.  If you are someone who can be at risk for severe infection, your cat is still not a safety hazard.  The toxoplasma parasite only becomes infectious 1 to 5 days after being shed, therefore if you change your cat’s litter box daily (or more often) the chances of the infection spreading to you is reduced.  With that said, if you are pregnant or immunocompromised, try and avoid being the person responsible for the litter box.  If avoiding the litter box is not an option, handle it with disposable gloves and make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after.  During pregnancy, it is best to to avoid adopting any new or stray kittens, especially if you have no knowledge of it’s history.  For healthy people infected with toxoplasmosis, treatment is rarely administered because even if symptoms occur they typically go away within a few weeks, so there is no need to worry about your cat.  

So long story short, loving cats and adopting hundreds of cats is perfectly acceptable.  In fact, I think for most of us, the first thing we think when we see some of those cute videos on Facebook is “I want to adopt it”.  It’s not a crime to love your pets, and it’s not a crime to have many of them if you can take care of them.  So if you can adopt, and take care of, and raise 100 cats go ahead and do it.  Just be aware that you can put yourself at risk of developing a widespread of diseases, most of which are harmless.  The best way to avoid getting contaminated, like with any other illness, is taking the necessary precautions and keeping your animals living spaces clean, which should be done anyways.  Aside from that, if you’re getting hit with the “crazy cat person” tag, rock it.  There is no shame in being able to form attachments with more than just humans.  If someone can pull out their phone and show you hundreds of pictures of their newborn, there should be nothing stopping you from pulling out your phone and showing them pictures of your new cat.  Regardless of whether you own one, or one hundred, you should never be ashamed of being able to provide a home for an animal.