Are you getting tired of the media’s obsession with the “dangers of cat poop”? Every few months a “staff member” of some online newspaper writes about cat feces and toxoplasmosis.
Almost invariably there is exaggeration and never are the dangers put into context by making a comparison with human poop (or dog poop). I do it on this page. This not a comprehensive list. I am just making a point.
The latest incarnation of the media’s obsession with cat poop comes from the big CNN website. The headline is “Is cat poop dangerous?”
The CNN reporter refers to the work of two scientists who say that it could be a “vast and underappreciated” public health problem.
My comment: the fact is that….
Cats and people eating raw or undercooked meat and unpasteurised milk are the most common ways of getting toxoplasmosis. People with antibodies are probably immune to infection.
The general drift of the CNN page is that the Toxoplasma oocysts in some cat poop could cause health problems. The reporter says that recent studies suggest that people with health problems such as OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), schizophrenia, rheumatoid arthritis or brain tumors are more likely to have antibodies to Toxoplasma gondii than other people. Note the word “suggest”.
I am not going to go over old ground. My assessment of the situation is that cat poop can cause human health problems (rarely) although there is yet to be hard evidence with respect to the health conditions referred to above. Simple precautions can be taken. I cover these on this page.
Let’s compare the “dangers” of human poop to cat poop for fun and to put things into perspective:
|Cat Poop||Human Poop|
|Can it cause health problems?||Yes||Yes|
|What can cause the health problems?||Toxoplasma oocysts – this is the organism that is always referred to.||E. Coli4, Hepatitis A3, Bacteria, Salmonella, Meningitis?, Worms, Parasites, C Diff.|
|How transmitted to people?||Touching the poop and inadvertently ingesting it – i.e. while gardening or cleaning cat litter.||(1) The “oral-fecal route” — 26% of people don’t wash their hands after going to the toilet6. They touch things. You touch the same things (2) In the bathroom in the air. Toilet flush sends out particles which can settle on toothbrush etc. and be ingested2 (3) Washing machines harboring germs from clothes that were washed (4) In most countries sewage is discharged into rivers etc without any treatment (5) In some countries people go to the toilet in side streets providing ample opportunity for transmission (6) In Muslim countries the right hand is used for eating. This is an admission that there are germs on the left hand.|
“Cat poop is dangerous. So is any other kind of poop. Wash your hands and get on with life.” (Ruth – Monty’s Mom)
And what about dog poop?
As Ruth says, cats get a bad deal from the press. We rarely read about dog poop causing health problems in humans. Here are some examples of the diseases that can be transmitted to people from dog poop1:
- Campylobacteriosis – bacteria
- E. Coli – bacteria
- Salmonella – bacteria
- Yersiniosis – bacteria
- Cyclospora – parasite
- Cryptosporidium and Giardia – parasite
- Roundworm – parasite
- Tapeworms – parasite
Conclusions? It is important that the media present a balanced assessment of health risks from cat feces. That can only done when it is placed in the context of wider health issues. I have only mentioned people poop here as a comparison. There are many other health problems caused by people that affect us all and our cats.
- CPHA – Canada’s Public Health Leader
- Picture by faul