CatGenie and Toxoplasmosis
So you’re scrolling through Facebook and an ad for CatGenie pops up. It looks interesting so you look into it a bit further . . . you find out it’s self-scooping (that’s great) self-washing (oh, different!) and self-flushing (wait, WHAT?) This last bit reminds you of something. You know you’ve heard not to flush cat waste before because of something called toxoplasmosis. It’s the same reason why pregnant women are told not to scoop litter boxes. So how could CatGenie be allowed to flush cat waste? We understand you have questions and we’re here to help answer them and ease your concerns. First, let’s dive in a little deeper into what toxoplasmosis is.
What is toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is defined by Oxford Languages as “a disease caused by toxoplasmas, transmitted chiefly through undercooked meat, or in soil or cat feces. Symptoms generally pass unremarked in adults, but infection can be dangerous to unborn children.”
This disease is caused by the toxoplasma gondii parasite, which is a protozoan parasite that infects most species of warm-blooded animals, including humans, and causes the disease toxoplasmosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.¹
Toxoplasmosis in the environment
One recent concern regarding toxoplasmosis is its effect on marine mammals. According to a study funded by the National Science Foundation, Ecology of Infectious Disease Grant, Wild Animal Health Fund, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), and others determined, a large proportion of wild southern sea otters are infected with the parasite.² Hawaiian monk seals, which are only found in Hawaii and highly endangered, have been fatally affected by toxoplasmosis as well.³ “Toxo” has become widespread among marine mammals due largely to the growing number of infected feral cats defecating in the environment leading the feces to spread from land to sea.⁴
Scientists have been working hard to prevent marine life from being infected. Kayleigh Chalkowski, a doctoral student in the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, is leading a research study that's making important discoveries about the scope of this disease, according to Phys.org.⁵ Chalkwoski’s research also notes that this is due to feral cat populations in Hawaii and worldwide. Her study is published in Pacific Conservation Biology and is relevant for wherever feral cat populations can be found.⁶
Dr. Patricia Conrad, the leading researcher at UC Davis that discovered the toxo issue reported, “No association was found between seropositivity to T. gondii and human population density or exposure to sewage." This study provides evidence implicating land-based surface runoff as a source of T. gondii infection for marine mammals, specifically sea otters, and provides a convincing illustration of pathogen pollution in the marine ecosystem, as published in the International Journal for Parasitology.
In summary, the issue of cat waste is primarily about wild and feral cats, who defecate in the wild. The feces gets into the runoff, especially storm drain runoff, and then gets into the environment causing these issues for marine life.
Image credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Toxoplasmosis and pregnancy
Toxoplasmosis is a concern for pregnant people. During pregnancy, women are told not to scoop cat litter boxes to avoid any exposure to the parasite, even though it is uncommon in indoor cats. It’s a mentality of better safe than sorry. The reason for this is because toxo is extremely harmful to children in-utero. Most infants infected before birth don’t show symptoms at first. However, many are likely to develop symptoms later in life including vision loss, mental disability, and seizures, says the CDC.⁷
How do cats get the parasite?
Cats, both wild and domestic, are known carriers of the toxoplasma gondii parasite. Most felines get it through eating infected rodents or contaminated feces that have the parasite within it. If infected, cats shed the parasite in their stool for around 10 to 14 days. These Oocysts, or “eggs”, take about 1–5 days to sporulate and become infectious.⁸
The occurrence of the Toxoplasma Gondii parasite in domestic cats, while common, usually happens one time and does not often reoccur and when it does not as many Oocysts (eggs) are shed by the cat in their waste. In fact, in the U.S., the prevalence of cats who are actively shedding oocysts is quite low—approximately 1 percent, according to the Companion Animal Parasite Council. Younger cats are more likely to release Toxoplasma in their feces.⁹ Most cats have already been exposed and have passed the parasite through them before they were adopted.¹⁰
How to prevent toxoplasmosis in your cat
While there is no cure for toxoplasmosis, there are certainly steps we can all take to prevent toxoplasmosis infection and spread. For cat families, the number one way to be proactive is to keep your cat indoors.
According to the CDC, cats kept indoors (that do not hunt prey or are not fed raw meat) are not likely to be infected with Toxoplasma.¹¹ Eliminating the rodents from the picture cuts off the life cycle of toxoplasmosis in cats.
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine shares a similar sentiment. "Reducing the incidence of toxoplasmosis in cats requires measures to reduce both exposure to infective oocysts and shedding of oocysts into the environment,” says the college. “Cats should preferably be fed commercially prepared, cooked foods (appropriate heating inactivates any T. gondii cysts that may be present) and should not be allowed to eat uncooked meat or intermediate hosts, such as rodents.”¹²
Cornell continues to say that because cats only shed the organism for a short time, the chance of human exposure via cats they live with is relatively small. Owning a cat does not mean you will be infected with Toxoplasma.
CatGenie as a Solution
CatGenie advocates for and believes in keeping cats indoors and in homes. California Fish and Game, where the problem of toxo affecting marine life was discovered, actually felt our product was “part of the Solution” since the issue over time has been linked to coastal runoff from feral cats, wild cats and people letting their cats outside. Keeping cats in the home dramatically reduces the odds of your cat’s exposure and toxoplasmosis in cat waste and makes sure it does not end up in storm drains and waterways.
Likewise, to help keep pregnant women extra-safe, the CatGenie solves the issue of eliminating the need to scoop cat waste during those 9 months since it is self-scooping, self-washing and self-drying. Totally hands free.
Here at CatGenie, we had to do a lot of research and make sure our product was safe before we could go on the market. We care very much about animal safety and work hard to help keep cats in homes happy and healthy!
¹ “CDC - Toxoplasmosis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Aug. 2018, www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/index.html.
², ⁴ Shapiro, Karen, et al. “Type X Strains of Toxoplasma Gondii Are Virulent for Southern Sea Otters ( Enhydra Lutris Nereis) and Present in Felids from Nearby Watersheds.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 286, no. 1909, 2019, p. 20191334., doi:10.1098/rspb.2019.1334.
³ Fisheries, NOAA. “The Toll of Toxoplasmosis: Protozoal Disease Has Now Claimed the Lives of 12 Monk Seals and Left Another Fighting to Survive.” NOAA, 7 May 2020, www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/toll-toxoplasmosis-protozoal-disease-has-now-claimed-lives-12-monk-seals-and-left.
⁵ Greene, Teri. “Researcher Makes Significant Discoveries in Scope of Disease, Parasite Spread by Feral Cats.” Phys.org, Phys.org, 17 Feb. 2021, phys.org/news/2021-02-significant-discoveries-scope-disease-parasite.html.
⁶ Chalkowski, Kayleigh, et al. “Spatial Epidemiology of Toxoplasma Gondii Seroprevalence in Sentinel Feral Chickens (Gallus Gallus) in Kaua'i, Hawai'i.” CSIRO PUBLISHING, CSIRO PUBLISHING, 5 Oct. 2020, www.publish.csiro.au/PC/PC20045.
⁷, ⁸ “Toxoplasmosis: An Important Message for Cat Owners.” Cdc.gov, www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/resources/printresources/catowners_2017.pdf.
⁹, ¹¹“CDC - Toxoplasmosis - Biology.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Nov. 2020, www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/biology.html.
¹⁰ “Michael Lappin.” College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, 15 Aug. 2019, vetmedbiosci.colostate.edu/directory/member/?id=904.
¹² “Toxoplasmosis in Cats.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 21 Nov. 2019, www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/toxoplasmosis-cats?fbclid=IwAR2qZukg9oNnxR7qVrMqpAmoT4eGCgEp8dZl1Dpxk5rzwt-xxEz0gswZO8M.