A New Twist on the Notion of the Crazy Cat Lady

Via GMAStudy Links Cat Litter Box to Increased Suicide Risk

A common parasite that can lurk in the cat litter box may cause undetected brain changes in women that make them more prone to suicide, according to an international study.

Scientists have long known that pregnant women infected with the toxoplasma gondii parasite — spread through cat feces, undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables — could risk still birth or brain damage if transmitted to an unborn infant.

But a new study of more than 45,000 women in Denmark shows changes in their own brains after being infected by the common parasite.

One the one hand, few things sound as bad as a parasitic infection in the brain.  On the other:

More than 60 million men, women, and children in the United States carry the toxoplasma parasite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but very few have symptoms.


"The parasite does actually alter the brain of its host," Stanford University study co-author Patrick House told ABCNews.com last year. "The fact that a parasite can get into an organism, target its brain, stay there without killing the host and alter the circuitry of the brain — we’ve seen this is insects and fungi, but it’s the first time we’ve seen it in a mammalian host."

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. There are all kinds of crazy data on toxoplasma gondii. I’ve heard for instance, that people who die in car crashes have a higher rate of infection than the general population. That ties with the “risk taker” effect seen in infected rodents.

  2. Franklin says:

    What I don’t get is why we don’t *all* have this by now. If one-third of the human population already carries it, it seems rather likely that you’ll be exposed, well, sometime before the end of the day. Are some of us immune, or have we really gone our entire life without contacting any infected feces? (Not saying I have it or not … actually I probably do since I have had cats in the house almost continuously since birth.)

  3. JohnMcC says:

    Wonderfully interesting article on this topic in a recent Atlantic Magazine. Bet you could find it by using the google machine. As mentioned by Mr Personna above — rats infected by the parasite seem to have a demented desire to play tag with cats and similar risk-taking can be sort-of documented in people who host it. It seems that cats kept indoors do not spread the little buggers, by the way.

  4. This is why dogs > cats

  5. Franklin says:

    Turning this into a dogs vs. cats thread, are we, Doug? At least cats know *how* to use a litter box, instead of whining at the door for hours on end.

    But seriously, met someone this weekend with a litter-trained chiahuahua. I guess the vets around here actually recommend it for cold winter days because the small dogs can lose body heat too fast.