Oh, poop! Scientists link cat litter to Alzheimer’s

Cat lovers take a lot of heat. They’re stereotyped as being eccentric recluses who struggle to find a piece of cat hair-free clothing every time they set foot out the door. Their lives revolve around the care and feeding of a demanding, aloof little fur ball (or three). And now, cat lovers are getting no love from the scientific community, as researchers have just announced a possible link between cat litter and Alzheimer’s disease.

The problem lies in a tiny parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. It thrives in soiled litter boxes and is a real threat to pregnant women who end up with litter scooping duty. However, it’s also a risk to other cat owners who scoop the litter box and fail to wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.

If a person is infected with T. gondii, the parasite moves into their brain. There, it can increase the risk of anxiety, schizophrenia, and even brain cancer. Scientists are also looking into whether or not the infection may cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists published the study in the Journal of Parasitology. Journal editor Michael Sukhdeo of Rutgers University said that the Alzheimer’s-T. gondii link is likely because “the parasite likes to live in the brain.

In their research, they looked at mice who were infected with T. gondii, as well as others who were altered to show symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s. Researchers found that mice infected with the parasite demonstrated impairments to their learning and memory that mimicked the classic symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

They also noted that the infection altered the mice’s brain chemistry and increased their chances of developing Alzheimer’s.

The findings increase the health risk posed by cat litter to pregnant women, but they also mean that other adults need to be more cautious when handling soiled cat litter. People who are infected may notice flu-like symptoms; they may also experience no symptoms whatsoever.

By Dawn Henderson, Earth.com Staff Writer
Source: Michael Sukhdeo, Rutgers University

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