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On Toxoplasmosis: The Cat Poop Parasite Hype that Wouldn't Die

Like a horror-movie villain, hysteria over cats and toxoplasmosis keeps coming back to haunt us.

 |  Jul 19th 2013  |   16 Contributions


It seems like a perfectly ordinary day in your home. You wake up, feed the cats, and start preparing your breakfast. But little do you know that as you’re sitting back with your morning coffee and scratching little Fluffy’s head, this seemingly innocent creature is exposing you to a CAT CRAP-BORNE PARASITE OF DOOM!

Well, that’s what many news outlets would have you believe. After all, that's what a new scientific report says! (Or, probably more accurately, what the press release about the scientific report might imply.)

It seems to happen at least once a year, and typically during the summer months. And as usual, the so-called science correspondents reporting on this PUBLIC HEALTH THREAT NUMERO UNO don’t seem to be capable of doing even the most basic research about the most common sources of toxoplasmosis infection.

Yes, that’s right: The specter of toxoplasmosis -- and cats as the primary, if not the only, vector of this protozoan parasite -- is rearing its ugly, brain-eating head once again.

And this time it comes with a new shrieking warning: Cats deposit 1.2 MILLION METRIC TONS OF FECES into the U.S. environment. Oh no! Can you believe it? After all, human feces never makes its way into the environment. Oh, wait ...

The ONOZ THE CHILDRUNZ crowd can get in on the hysteria, too, because cats sometimes poop in sandboxes. And when they do, just watch out: After a year and a half, a 194-square-foot sandbox contains 325 million Toxoplasma oocysts -- that’s 1,677,852 oocysts per square foot.

Oh, no! The crapocalypse is upon us!

How to avoid toxoplasmosis, step 1: Don't eat raw meat. Woman eating raw sirloin steak by Shutterstock

But the research isn't quite that clear-cut. According to the study, this is from “a hypothetical calculation of Toxoplasma oocysts deposited by cats into sandboxes of children, extrapolated from a study of Toxocara cysts quantitated from urban sandboxes in Japan.” (Source: Table 1, footnote A of this report.)

Yup, that’s right. An extrapolation, like the “four billion birds” thing. Oh, and you know what else? Toxocara isn’t even toxoplasma: Toxocara are roundworms, not protozoan parasites! For God’s sake, if you’re going to conduct scientific research, you could at least be sure you’re working with the same damn species!

How to avoid toxoplasmosis, step 2: Use safe food handling practices like, um, not cutting veggies that are going to be eaten raw on the same cutting board you used to slice raw meat. Slicing meat on a cutting board by Shutterstock

But don’t worry: no one’s telling you to get rid of your cat, of course. Except that they kind of are. Especially if you care about your children.

Even though you’re more likely to get toxoplasmosis from eating raw meat than you are from handling cat crap, either the researchers or the media outlets reporting on the research are trying to make you believe that the reason food animals carry toxoplasmosis in the first place is TOTALLY BECAUSE OF CATS pooping in the fields where they eat.

How to avoid toxoplasmosis, step 3: Teach your kids to wash their hands after they come in from playing or working in the garden! Girl planting tomato seedlings by Shutterstock

Look: Toxoplasma can be found just about everywhere. I’ve shared the facts about cats and toxoplasmosis before. In fact, I’ve shared them more than once. Frankly, I’m pretty damn tired of the Zombie Cat Crap story rearing its head every year. I wish I could just shake these “journalists” because maybe some facts would show up in their reporting instead of hype and fear-mongering.

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.

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