Cat Parasites Eyed: Is Your Kitty Slowly Killing You?

A new cat parasites study is taking the web by storm, perhaps the first time the internet has been taken over by cats in a negative way.

The cat parasites study has not really told us anything new, but it adds to a growing body of research that suggests our feline friends pose far more of a risk than we may care to admit — a topic that has, in the past, inevitably drawn ire from cat lovers who don’t want to hear the bad news.

We’ve always known cat parasites, or Toxoplasma gondii, are pretty bad for some portions of the population — pregnant women in particular are urged to steer clear of litter boxes, and those with weakened immune systems are also at risk from exposure to the parasite.

In recent years, we’ve come to learn that exposure to embryonic T. gondii oocysts is worryingly correlated with mental illness, and perhaps even suicide. Last July, a study eyed suicide risk in a study out of Denmark with tens of thousands of participants.

While controversial, the cat parasites seemed to affect mental health quite adversely, and Teodor T. Postolache, MD, of theUniversity of Maryland School of Medicine said:

We can’t say with certainty that T. gondii caused the women to try to kill themselves, but we did find a predictive association between the infection and suicide attempts later in life that warrants additional studies. We plan to continue our research into this possible connection.

But cat parasites present a very tricky public health quandary overall — people love cats, the cat population is soaring, and the effects of T. gondii can be delayed for two decades.

Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, said that while data is piling up, a clear conclusion on cat parasites has yet to be drawn:

The association has been discussed, but it has not been completely accepted by everyone … If people were convinced of that, we would have acted on it.

Feline advocates have expressed concern that the cat parasites fears may be “scapegoating” cats and causing owners to be needlessly worried.