A recent study published in Schizophrenia Research suggests that childhood cat ownership was more common in families in which a child became seriously mentally ill later in life. This isn’t the first time T.gondii has made the news. It was previously reported to hijack the brains of mice, making them fearless around cats and attracted to the smell of cat urine. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense for the parasite. It makes it easier for an infected mouse to be caught and eaten by a cat, which is necessary for the parasite’s survival — as it can only replicate in the intestines of cats. Unfortunately, although it seems to control the brain of mice, it is unlikely to explain the “crazy cat lady” stereotype.
Toxoplasmosis Symptoms Can Develop if Your Immune System Is Weak
Like most cats, if you are infected with this parasite, you will probably never suffer any symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 60 million people in the United States carry the parasite, yet very few have symptoms.But you are at greater risk if you have a weakened immune system, such as young children or immunocompromised people — those with HIV/AIDS, who are on chemotherapy, or who are organ transplant recipients.
Why Most Indoor-Only Cats Don’t Pose a Risk
Now, before you start thinking about putting your cat to the curb, remember that most indoor-only household cats do not pose a major risk of infection to humans, for two reasons:
- First, a cat must be exposed to the parasite, which usually occurs when they’re hunting wildlife — like infected birds and rodents.
- Second, an infected cat usually only sheds the parasite eggs, called oocysts, for up to three weeks after becoming infected.
Furthermore, any eggs that are shed in cat feces take from one to five days to become infective once outside the cat. This means that cleaning the litter box one to two times a day and wearing gloves, or at least thoroughly washing your hands after doing so, will help avoid infection. It will also make your cat happy that it doesn’t have a dirty toilet.
How to Avoid Parasite Infection
I recommend wearing gloves when gardening and practicing good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently and avoiding raw meats, to help prevent infection.Keep an eye on children and teach them not to place soil or sand in their mouths. Make sure they wash their hands after playing outside or with the cat — a very important way to avoid T.gondii infection.