Fake news: New York Times’ article about house cats killing sea otters

The New York Times’ article about sea otters becoming infected with Toxoplasma gondii is highly misleading to the point of it being fake news. The title “What’s Killing California’s Sea Otters? House Cats.’ is horrendous. It states in unequivocal terms that we have to blame domestic cats in America for the death of sea otters off California. It is all the cat’s fault. They are evil, murdering animals. That’s the gist of the title. That’s what the author is implying. It is way too simiplistic. Why not blame farmers for keeping livestock that is infected with toxoplasmosis (see base of page).

This is ridiculous. It is scientific mumbo-jumbo. It will be much more accurate to say that domestic and feral cats in California suffer from an infection called toxoplasmosis as do many humans. It is something which is unfortunate and which has befallen the domestic cat as it has humans. You can’t blame domestic cats for becoming infected with a parasite. You can blame the parasite, nature and humans. How do you blame an innocent animal anyway?

Sea Otter

Sea Otter. Photo: Pixabay

Further, you can’t blame feral cats for either (a) being feral cats or (b) becoming infected with this parasite. Feral cats exist because of human carelessness. They carry the infection because that’s the way nature works. And the oocysts get washed down to the sea where sea otters live because of the way humans behave. Some people flush domestic cat poo down the toilet. This is a human problem and it should be stopped. Time magazine suggests that this is a major reason why Toxoplasma oocysts find their way to the sea.

The author of the article, Francie Diep, goes on to say that a study analysed the DNA from 135 sea otters with the Toxoplasma infection that died between 1998 and 2015. At the end of the article she writes that “most of the 135 otters examined by her team showed no evidence of brain damage, an indication that the parasite had not contributed to their deaths”.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Accordingly, 135 otters did not die of Toxoplasma infection but 12 deaths were determined to have been caused primarily by toxoplasmosis. Note the word “primarily”. So perhaps less than the 12 sea otters died of toxoplasmosis solely. What percentage of the total number of California sea otters is that? Well there are 3000 sea otters in the sea off California according to defenders.org. That makes about 0.33% of sea otters killed by toxoplasmosis.

There are a range of reasons why sea otters are killed off the Californian coast. Another one is thorny-headed worms dropped into the ocean by seabirds. Toxic algae blooms triggered by urea, a key ingredient in fertiliser is another reason for untimely deaths of sea otters. There are many others.

The point that I’m making is that the New York Times’ article is highly misleading and likely to encourage abuse of feral cats when it is the human’s duty to treat them humanely. The New York Times’ article is unbalanced and unfair to cats.

NOTE: cats and people get the disease from eating raw or uncooked pork, beef, mutton or veal or unpasteurised dairy products. Yes, cats carry the Toxoplasma oocysts which are passed in feces but it happens for a very short time after initial exposure.


Toxo infographic

Infographic on toxoplasmosis and its zoonotic ability

Here are some notes on toxoplasmosis in an infographic. I have to be very selective on what to include and ...
Read More
Toxoplasma parasite engages in 'identity theft' of immune cell to travel around the host's body

Wily toxoplasma parasite hijacks immune cells to travel around the host

I have had to interpret a very complicated study on the Toxoplasma gondii protozoan parasite published on the Cell Host ...
Read More
Toxoplasma gondii

Domestic cats overly criticised for their role as hosts of Toxoplasma gondii

The life-cycle of Toxoplasma gondii is complicated. People tend to oversimplify it. They see the domestic cat infecting humans with ...
Read More
Toxoplasma gondii

Is there a link between domestic cats and human psychosis?

I declare my bias/interest: I am for the cat and against science which either purposefully or inadvertently maligns the cat ...
Read More
Toxoplasma gondii oocyst

Health tip: preventing a toxoplasmosis infection from cat faeces

A lot has been said about toxoplasmosis and the possibility of contracting it through coming into contact with domestic cat ...
Read More
TNR program Austin Texas

Feral cats in TNR colonies are no greater risk to human beings than pet cats

An interesting study dated 2003 titled: Prevalence of infectious diseases in feral cats in Northern Florida concluded that feral cats ...
Read More
Map showing where T. gondii is most prevalent in wild animals

Toxoplasmosis in wild animals is more common in places of higher human density

A study has found that the protozoan parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis is more commonly found in wild animals that live ...
Read More
Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

You may also like...

3 Responses

  1. October 12, 2020

    […] Once again toxoplasmosis presents a barrier to this process. There were reports some time ago of sea otters and beluga whales contracting toxoplasmosis from flushed cat litter. If you believe this reports […]

  2. March 30, 2021

    […] The next section shows a Siamese cat peeing into a human toilet. This is another example of cat training. Quite a few people train their cats to do this because it is convenient. It takes some patience to achieve it. I can remember a bobcat doing this instinctively without training! One problem with this toilet habit is that cat faeces containing toxoplasmosis can be flushed down the toilet whereupon it may end up in the sea at which point it can harm marine wildlife. That is the theory. It must be rare but it can happen because sea otters have been affected by it. […]

  3. June 16, 2021

    […] cat poop down the toilet with nothing attached to it and it is this. There have been stories of sea otters and beluga whales being poisoned by toxoplasmosis which the experts said had found its way into the […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *