Feline Friday: Suicide Reporting & Crazy Cat-astrophies

It’s Friday the 13th. Somehow that seems appropriate to address creepy, without-a-clue reportage that does more damage than good. I’m at Thrillerfest this weekend where we’re discussing all sorts of mayhem but that’s make-believe. When bad info crosses over into “real life” that can cause lots of problems.

Every once in a while cats get demonized once again for causing everything from sucking the breath from babies to causing male pattern baldness. Now they’ve been linked to increase suicide risk. On purpose. Because they’re evil.

Huh? Even if they WERE evil, cats are too smart to kill the two-legged servants who hold the keys to the pantry and can openers. Just give me a break!

It’s that toxoplasmosis bug, not cats, that MIGHT increase risk of suicide and honestly, you’ll be more likely to contract that creepy parasite by munching unwashed lettuce.

WHAT IS TOXOPLASMOSIS?

The single cell organism Toxoplasma gondii, a parasitic protozoan, can be found in nearly all mammals (including cats and dogs), and has evolved to infect people and animals without making them sick. It’s been estimated that half the people in the United States have been exposed–60 million men, women and children–already carry this parasite, but never developed symptoms. When they do, the most common sign in both people and pets is transient swelling of the lymph glands. Sort of like flu.

However, the disease can cause life-threatening illness in immune suppressed people, as well as unborn babies of pregnant mothers who become infected during the pregnancy–and the mom rarely show any symptoms.

THE KITTY CONNECTION & FELINE BLAME GAME

Cats become infected either by swallowing the infective stage of the protozoan from the environment, by eating infected animals, or by eating raw meat. The protozoan multiplies in the wall of the small intestine and produce egg-like oocysts. Infected cats are the only animals that pass on these immature forms of the organism; they are shed in the cat’s stool. And THAT’S how kitty got the bad rap. However, the oocysts are passed in great numbers in the cat’s feces for only two to three weeks. Once this stage is passed it’s rare for the cat to ever again shed the eggs.

THE DOWN & DIRTY ON THE DANGERS

It takes two to five days for the oocysts to mature into infective forms of the organism. These organisms can survive in moist or shady soil or sand for many months.  The disease is spread when an animal or a person swallows these infective organisms.

Once inside the bird, rodent, cat or person, the protozoan continues to mature, causing pockets of disease throughout the body. If the victim survives this stage of the illness, usually symptoms go away and the disease becomes dormant; the protozoan remains in certain muscle tissues and even the brain.

Cats are diagnosed when a microscopic examination of their stool reveals oocysts, which means the cat is at that time capable of spreading disease. A blood test shows if the cat has ever been exposed. A positive test in an otherwise healthy cat means Kitty is actively immune, and is an unlikely source of disease. In fact, cats rarely show signs of the disease. The immune system of most cats interferes with the life cycle of the organism, so that toxoplasmosis in cats enters a dormant phase often for the remaining lifetime of the cat.

EASY TO PREVENT

Don’t let anyone (your mom, sister, friend, or even doctor!) scare you into giving up your cat by whispering about the dangers of toxoplasmosis. Yes, the disease can be dangerous especially to unborn babies, but a pregnant woman would have to be pretty unsanitary to catch anything from her cat.

It’s easy to prevent the spread of the disease. Since several days are needed for the oocysts to become infective, simply cleaning the cat’s litter box each day eliminates that route of infection. People in high-risk groups, such as pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems should have someone else perform litter box duty.

The chance of contracting toxoplasmosis from a well cared for pet cat is extremely low. The most common infection source in people in the United States is undercooked or raw meat, especially pork, or unwashed raw veggies.

To reduce risk even further, wash your hands after handling raw meat, and cook it thoroughly before eating. Don’t feed your cat undercooked or raw foods, and prevent the cat from hunting. Wear gloves while working in the garden to prevent contracting the disease from the soil.

If you plan to become pregnant, ease your worries by asking the doctor to perform a blood test to see if you’ve ever been exposed to the disease. If a woman has been infected before becoming pregnant, she’ll be immune and her future baby will be protected against infection.

MORE EXPERT INFO RESOURCES

There is much more information available at the CAPC site about toxoplasmosis. For those of you who would like to listen to an audio podcast instead of reading, here’s a great AVMA podcast interview about toxoplasmosis with Dr. Jane Brunt, executive director of the CATalyst Council, and owner and director of the Cat Hospital at Towson in Baltimore. You can also find out more information at the Centers for Disease Control.

This video is one of my most popular and most watched–when a well known pediatrician also got his facts wrong. There’s lots of mis-information out there. But those of us who love cats…and what people protected, too…are doing our part. Please share this post!

Or else the ZOMBIE CAT APOCALYPSE WILL EAT YOUR BRAINS–REALLY–I’M NOT JOKING!

So what kinds of hurtful, clueless MYTH-TAKES have you helped debunk about your cat (or your dog?). How do you change the tied against ignorance? Please offer tips here–it’s important.

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter .

Don’t forget to check out the NAME THAT DOG/CAT character in the forthcoming THRILLER, LOST & FOUND! Poll with SEMIFINAL NAMES for you to vote to be posted next week so get your suggestions in ASAP.

Comments

Feline Friday: Suicide Reporting & Crazy Cat-astrophies — 14 Comments

  1. I’ve been retweeting these toxoplasmosis articles like MAD. I’ve heard of WAY too many people who got rid of cats because they got pregnant. …one of whom made me cringe when I was volunteering at the local humane society. Was looking for her boyfriend’s cat “because we gave him up when I got pregnant and he seems to think they probably put him to sleep – they don’t do that here do they? It’s not like I WANTED to make him give up his cat, I mean we were good owners, got him declawed and everything!”

    I’m sure you can find PLENTY wrong with that story. *twitch* Of course, my first thought was, if it’s HIS cat, why didn’t HE clean the litterbox? Since, you know, that’s the only issue you might have with a cat in the house while pregnant. I just had to force myself to walk away when she got to the part about declawing meaning they were good owners. I don’t think the folks running the shelter would have been too happy if I decked one of the guests.

    • “Twitch” is right! Sometimes the best we can do is walk away–folks WANT to do the right thing and making them feel worse (when it’s too late to change the past) rarely is productive. But that’s why there’s a head-shaped dent in the wall of my office, and I go through reams of tissues.

      We educate one owner at a time…and then they pass it forward. For the pets who can’t speak for themselves. *sigh*

  2. Reblogged this on Adopt A LAPCAT and commented:
    Today’s Friday Film is a reblog of the current post on Amy Shojai’s “Bling, Bitches & Blood”. The subject she tackles is one often misunderstood and so often the driving force that makes ill-informed people dump their cats at shelters or abandon them altogether: toxoplasmosis [tok-soh-plaz-moh-sis]. Amy’s post dispels myths and puts this nasty little organism in modern-day prospective, and is one of the easiest read, most understandable articles I’ve seen on the subject. There’s also an informal video interview with Amy as she explains the Truth about Toxoplasmosis.

    Amy Shojai is a popular CABC (certified animal behavior consultant), and the award-winning author of 24 best selling pet books that cover furry babies to old-fogies, first aid to natural healing, and behavior/training to Chicken Soup-icity. She is the Puppies Guide at puppies.About.com, the cat behavior expert at cats.About.com, writes features for AOL’s PawNation.com and Huffington Post, and hosts a weekly half hour Internet Pet Peeves radio show. Amy has been featured as an expert in hundreds of print venues including The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, and Family Circle, as well as national radio and television networks such as CNN, Animal Planet’s DOGS 101 and CATS 101. She’s been a consultant to the pet products industry and a host/program consultant for select “furry” TV projects. Amy brings her unique pet-centric viewpoint to public appearances, writer conferences keynotes/seminars and thriller fiction (including pet “voice”).

  3. Amy, I loved your post, and your information about toxoplasmosis is the most basic, understandable, well-researched (with real-life examples) I’ve seen. I hope by your “please share this post” it was okay to reblog it on Adopt A LAPCAT, our shelter cat rescue blog. Sometimes re-educating the public is the most difficult part of the job! Thanks for all you do!

  4. Great post, Amy. People need to be educated about these things. My uncle died of toxoplasmosis after a bone marrow transplant, but that was due to immune deficiency. Getting rid of cats because of pregnancy is just plain silly.

    • Oh dear heavens…Stacy I’m so very sorry. Toxo is a terrible disease. Just concerned that folks know the right ways to keep themselves (and their pets) safe!

  5. Ahhh…cats always get the bad rap. My cat is a sweetheart. She can tell if I’m not feeling well or am sad for whatever reason and she’ll cuddle up with me. Makes me feel better. She’s also funny and loves to play. Talks back to me. She just has a great personality. I dare anyone to think she’s evil. :-)

    Thanks for the info on toxoplasmosis. I’ll pass along the link.