- Not an alternative choice to skilled veterinary assist.
My dad used to hate cats. After I was a child, we weren’t allowed to have indoor cats, although a rotation of semi-wild outside 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 study their names. It’s secure to say, I by no means imagined he’d turn into a cat man.
However just a few months in the past, my dad discovered a tiny, jet-black kitten huddling underneath 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 evening.
There could be just one clarification for this complete persona and way of life change: the cat parasite is controlling my father’s mind.
What’s “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 Occasions article referred to as it “some of the 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 could actually solely sexually reproduce inside feline intestines. Because the New York Occasions 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 their prey.
Right here’s the place issues get actually attention-grabbing (and type of gross, imo): research present that T. gondii modifications the conduct of animals it infects. As an illustration, rodents have developed to keep away from cat smells as a lot as attainable with a view to not get eaten, however as soon as contaminated with Toxoplasma gondii, many lose their pure worry of cat smells. At instances, they even appear to be drawn to it. The “cat parasite” instantly 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 outside cats catch their dinner. In recent times, studies have shown that toxoplasmosis could cause behavioral modifications 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 skilled Dr. Mikel Delgado explains, “toxoplasmosis could be a downside for a number of species together with marine mammals comparable to seals and otters.” One latest study exhibits that locations with greater human populations see greater instances of T. gondii in wild animals. Why? As a result of extra people means extra free-roaming cats who poop exterior. That cat poop, stuffed with T. gondii eggs, will get carried by soil and rainwater to weak marine animals.
Sadly, in case your cat is a provider, you’ll most likely by no means know. Though home cats are the first carriers of T. gondii, based on the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, “the parasite hardly ever causes scientific illness in them.” However you’ll be able to defend close by wildlife by conserving your cat indoors (which has the added bonus of extending their lives!) and thoroughly disposing of their waste. “Cat waste ought to 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 at all times a good suggestion to have your cat spayed or neutered, and assist trap-neuter-release packages in your space. Though spaying and neutering doesn’t forestall cats from carrying Toxoplasma, it does forestall undesirable litters which are extra prone to roam free and deposit the parasite within the wild.
Can toxoplasmosis alter the human mind?
Within the now-famous article “How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy,” revealed by The Atlantic in 2012, science author Kathleen McAuliffe profiled Czech scientist Jaroslav Flegr, who hypothesized that the Toxoplasma parasite may change human conduct. One other scientist quoted within the story stated, “the organism rewires circuits in components of the mind that take care of such primal feelings as worry, nervousness, and sexual arousal.”
Whereas that is true for rodents, the proof is less-conclusive on the subject of people. In response to the Atlantic article, there’s some proof that males carrying Toxoplasma gondii are “extra introverted, suspicious, oblivious to different individuals’s opinions of them, and inclined to ignore guidelines.” Ladies carrying the parasite, however, are likely to current as “extra outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, and rule-abiding than uninfected ladies.” Nonetheless, even Dr. Flegr admits, “the parasite’s results on persona are very delicate.”
Though modifications in human conduct make for attention-grabbing 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.
The right way to know when you’ve got toxoplasmosis (and what do to about it)
The Heart for Illness Management (CDC) estimates that in America, “1% of the inhabitants 6 years and older have been contaminated with Toxoplasma.” In growing 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 world wide are carrying T. gondii—however most of them by no means really feel the consequences.
As Dr. Delgado explains, the vast majority of individuals carrying Toxoplasma gondii “have asymptomatic infections.” In case you did develop signs, they might resemble a light flu—muscle aches and tender lymph nodes—and would doubtless clear up inside just a few weeks.
Pregnant or immunocompromised individuals are most vulnerable to growing 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 at the least 24 hours for the Toxoplasma parasites in feces to turn 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 scrub the litter field.”
Do cats management our brains, or not?
The reality is, cats aren’t even the first reason for toxoplasmosis in human beings. It’s far more frequent to contract toxoplasmosis by contaminated water, or by consuming undercooked, contaminated meat or shellfish. As Dr. Delgado says, “Individuals are nonetheless at extra threat of getting toxoplasmosis from dealing with uncooked meat than from their cats.”
So, possibly my dad isn’t underneath the affect of a tiny one-celled parasite that compels him to let the kitten lick his mustache. Possibly 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—but it surely’s not the parasite’s fault.