June 25, 2024
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My dad used to hate cats. When I used to be a child, we weren’t allowed to have indoor cats, although a rotation of semi-wild out of doors kitties roamed out and in of the yard. As an grownup, I’ve had three indoor cats for over 15 years, and my father by no means bothered to be taught their names. It’s secure to say, I by no means imagined he’d develop into a cat man.

But a number of months in the past, my dad discovered a tiny, jet-black kitten huddling beneath the diesel tank on his farm. Now, that kitten (named Diesel, in fact) runs the home, galloping up and down the corridor with my mother and father’ yellow lab, consuming premium kibble out of ceramic dishes, lounging on a brand-new cat tree, and even—gasp!—sleeping on the mattress at night time.

There may be just one clarification for this whole persona and way of life change: the cat parasite is controlling my father’s mind.

What is “the cat parasite?”

Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) is a protozoan (single-celled) parasite that infects most species of warm-blooded animals, and causes the illness toxoplasmosis. A 2014 New York Times article referred to as it “one of the vital profitable parasites on Earth.”

If any warm-blooded animal can get it, how did T. gondii get the nickname “the cat parasite?” It seems, cats are uniquely important to T. gondii’s life cycle: it may solely sexually reproduce inside feline intestines. As the New York Times explains, “the parasites produce cysts that get handed out of the cat with its feces; as soon as within the soil, the cysts infect new hosts.” From there, Toxoplasma gondii returns to cats by means of their prey.

Here’s the place issues get actually fascinating (and sort of gross, imo): research present that T. gondii adjustments the conduct of animals it infects. For occasion, rodents have developed to keep away from cat smells as a lot as doable in an effort to not get eaten, however as soon as contaminated with Toxoplasma gondii, many lose their pure concern of cat smells. At instances, they even appear to be interested in it. The “cat parasite” immediately influences their conduct and places them in hurt’s means—and conveniently, for rodent-loving cats.

How Toxoplasma impacts animals (together with your cat)

Toxoplasma gondii doesn’t simply assist out of doors cats catch their dinner. In current years, research have proven that toxoplasmosis may cause behavioral adjustments in hyena cubs, main them to be extra vulnerable to lion assault. And in Hawaii, toxoplasmosis is a number one reason for mortality within the endangered monk seal.

As Rover’s resident cat knowledgeable Dr. Mikel Delgado explains, “toxoplasmosis generally is a drawback for a number of species together with marine mammals similar to seals and otters.” One current research exhibits that locations with greater human populations see greater instances of T. gondii in wild animals. Why? Because extra people means extra free-roaming cats who poop outdoors. That cat poop, filled with T. gondii eggs, will get carried by means of soil and rainwater to weak marine animals.

Unfortunately, in case your cat is a provider, you’ll in all probability by no means know. Although home cats are the first carriers of T. gondii, based on the  Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, “the parasite hardly ever causes medical illness in them.” But you’ll be able to defend close by wildlife by holding your cat indoors (which has the added bonus of extending their lives!) and thoroughly disposing of their waste. “Cat waste must be disposed of within the trash, not flushed in the bathroom,” Dr. Delgado says. “Flushing contaminated feces can result in water contamination that spreads the parasite to different species.”

It’s additionally all the time a good suggestion to have your cat spayed or neutered, and help trap-neuter-release packages in your space. Although spaying and neutering doesn’t forestall cats from carrying Toxoplasma, it does forestall undesirable litters which might be extra prone to roam free and deposit the parasite within the wild.

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Can toxoplasmosis alter the human mind?

In the now-famous article “How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy,” printed by The Atlantic in 2012, science author Kathleen McAuliffe profiled Czech scientist Jaroslav Flegr, who hypothesized that the Toxoplasma parasite may change human conduct. Another scientist quoted within the story stated, “the organism rewires circuits in components of the mind that cope with such primal feelings as concern, nervousness, and sexual arousal.”

While that is true for rodents, the proof is less-conclusive on the subject of people. According to the Atlantic article, there may be some proof that males carrying Toxoplasma gondii are “extra introverted, suspicious, oblivious to different individuals’s opinions of them, and inclined to ignore guidelines.” Women carrying the parasite, then again, are likely to current as “extra outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, and rule-abiding than uninfected ladies.” However, even Dr. Flegr admits, “the parasite’s results on persona are very delicate.”

Although adjustments in human conduct make for fascinating headlines, over the previous 5-10 years, there hasn’t been a lot new proof to conclusively show that Toxoplasma gondii alters human brains the way in which it impacts wild animals. And there’s completely no information about whether or not the cat parasite can flip beforehand cat-hating fathers right into a kitten-snuggling softies, regardless of how a lot sure writers assume it could be true.

woman cleaning a litter box with cat looking on

iStock through CasarsaGuru

How to know if in case you have toxoplasmosis (and what do to about it)

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that in America, “1% of the inhabitants 6 years and older have been contaminated with Toxoplasma.” In creating international locations, an infection charges go as much as 60%, particularly in locations with sizzling, humid climates. In different phrases, thousands and thousands of individuals around the globe are carrying T. gondii—however most of them by no means really feel the consequences.

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As Dr. Delgado explains, nearly all of individuals carrying Toxoplasma gondii “have asymptomatic infections.” If you did develop signs, they’d resemble a light flu—muscle aches and tender lymph nodes—and would probably clear up inside a number of weeks.

Pregnant or immunocompromised persons are most vulnerable to creating signs and issues, however that doesn’t imply pregnant or immunocompromised individuals shouldn’t have cats. Like anyone else, they need to merely observe good litter field hygiene. Dr. Delgado explains, “as a result of it takes no less than 24 hours for the Toxoplasma parasites in feces to develop into infectious, cat homeowners won’t be in danger in the event that they scoop the field twice day by day, which I like to recommend anyway. If somebody is in an at-risk group, they will put on gloves, or ask another person within the family to wash the litter field.”

woman playing patty cake with cat

iStock through Timbicus

Do cats management our brains, or not?

The reality is, cats aren’t even the first reason for toxoplasmosis in human beings. It’s way more widespread to contract toxoplasmosis by means of contaminated water, or by consuming undercooked, contaminated meat or shellfish. As Dr. Delgado says, “People are nonetheless at extra threat of getting toxoplasmosis from dealing with uncooked meat than from their cats.”

So, perhaps my dad isn’t beneath the affect of a tiny one-celled parasite that compels him to let the kitten lick his mustache. Maybe there’s a way more apparent clarification for his seemingly-sudden change in conduct: kittens are cute, and it’s inconceivable to not love them.

I suppose, in that means, cats do management our brains—however it’s not the parasite’s fault.

Further Reading

  • Why Do Some Cats Follow You Home?
  • Will My Cat Eat Me If I Die?
  • 7 Surprising Ways that Cats Show Affection

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