INFECTIONS
September 14, 2012

Feline Groovy: Rest Easier, Cat Owners

A parasite found in litter boxes had been linked to brain cancer. Now that appears not to be so. But some risks remain.

It used to be easy being a cat owner, but lately, it has seemed somewhat perilous.

When French researchers published a study linking Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite sometimes found in cat feces, to an increased risk of brain cancer, cat owners were, of course, concerned. Now it seems that cat lovers can rest easy. A group of British researchers has found that cat owners are no more likely than their kitty-free counterparts to develop brain tumors.

The recent study looked at data from 600,000 British women who were 50 years of age or older, 18 percent of whom owned at least one cat. During the 3-year study period, the cat owners were just as likely as the non-cat owners to develop brain tumors, even though they were presumably more likely to be exposed to T. gondii.

The infection is often spread by contact with soil or vegetables contaminated by contact with cat feces.

Eating unwashed vegetables and exposure to contaminated soil without washing your hands are significant risk factors for T. gondii. The infection is often spread by contact with soil or vegetables contaminated by contact with cat feces. The consumption of undercooked meat has also been identified as the chief culprit for human toxoplasmosis in several European countries, including the U.K.

Jennifer Niebyl, professor and vice chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, tells The Doctor Will See You Now that T. gondii infection and toxoplasmosis is not a significant risk if your cat stays indoors.

However, pregnant women may want to ask someone else to clean the litter box, or at least wear gloves when they do it themselves, if kitty ventures outside. T. gondii infection and toxoplasmosis are associated with an increased risk of birth defects, particularly defects in brain formation. Of course, everyone should wash their hands after cleaning the litter box.

The consumption of raw meat should also be avoided. Niebyl says that this is less of an issue in the U.S. because Americans consume less raw meat compared to Europeans.

Niebyl advises those who like to work in their garden to wear gloves and wash their hands when they are done. And be sure to properly wash and clean all vegetables before eating them.

The British study was published in Biology Letters.

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