Is there a connection between cat litter and attempted suicide?



Posted on July 4, 2012 at 8:50 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 4 at 8:53 AM

A University of Maryland study looked at a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii and found that infected women had a one and a half times greater risk of attempting suicide than women who were infection free.

Toxoplasma gondii is found in the intestines of cats and ends up in the litter box.

It's why pregnant women are advised to steer clear of cat boxes.

Dr. Teodor Postolache was the senior author of that study that looked at 45,000 Danish women.

But he cautioned his research is a starting point. There are many other factors at play, including a person's genes and social and economic conditions.

"There are in the world approximately 30 percent of individuals who have the chronic form of the infection of Toxoplasma gondii. And it's only a minority of those who would attempt suicide," he said.

Most of the focus online has been on cats. And most cats likely carry the parasite without symptoms.

But in fact, cats are not the most common way people become infected.

Most people are exposed by eating undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables or drinking contaminated water.

The Maryland advocacy group Alley Cats Allies said their feline friends are getting a bad rap here.

"I think the most important thing cat owners should take away from the study is that they should continue to use the same precautions they want to use in their life but really that they understand that there's no reason - there's no panic - the cause of Toxmosis in people really comes from undercooked food," a group spokesperson said.

About a third of all people actually have a latent form of the parasite without showing any signs or symptoms.

For healthy people, the parasite usually poses no problems.

But Dr. Angela Marshall said it's a good reminder for expectant mothers and those with weak immune systems.

"I think individuals should definitely not get rid of the family cat based on this study. I think it's a good time to think about things like the importance of good hygiene and handling pets," said Marshall.