Would Cat-Lovers Give Up Their 'Pets' to Save the Earth?

I think we all know the answer to that question. But don’t take it from me — take it from the New York Times:

Jennifer L. McDonald is an ecologist by profession and a cat person by avocation. Some years ago, Tiggy, her ginger-and-white shorthair, would bring home freshly killed mice and shrews for her consideration. Dr. McDonald, now an associate research fellow at the Center for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter in England, was curious about the impact of pet cats like Tiggy on wildlife. Fewer mice might be nice. But cats, natural hunters, pounce on birds and rabbits, too.

“You can’t pick and choose a cat’s prey,” Dr. McDonald said. If owners realized how much prey their pets killed, she wondered, would they be willing to contain their cats to protect wildlife? She and her associates studied the question. The answer, published recently in the journal Ecology and Evolution was unequivocal and emphatic.



And not just “no,” but “hell no.”

Dr. McDonald surveyed owners in two British villages about cats they allowed to roam outdoors. Owners were asked to predict the amount of prey taken by their cats and document the actual killings. Owners in one village were then asked whether they believed pet cats had an ecological impact.

Researchers also asked owners about their willingness to keep cats indoors during prime hunting time, from dusk to dawn. The idea was flatly rejected, with some owners providing unsolicited commentary: “My cat chooses for herself whether to stay in or go out,” one wrote. Pointing to “a dissociation between actual and perceived predatory behavior,” the researchers concluded that “the cat owners in this study reject the proposition that cats are a threat to wildlife.”

Of course they do. Because this is what your brain looks like on toxoplasmosis, the parasite that lives in cat feces and can affect the brains of cat-owners, especially women, turning them into cat-hoarders.

Since 1992, a series of studies have been carried out in the Czech Republic comparing the personality characteristics of individuals who have anamnestic antibodies to T. gondii, and are thus assumed to have a latent infection, and those without such antibodies. The personality questionnaires used in these studies have been Cattell’s 16-personality factor (16PF) questionnaire2–6 and Cloninger’s Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI) personality test.7,8

Consistent and significant differences in Cattell’s personality factors were found between Toxoplasma-infected and -uninfected subjects in 9 of 11 studies, and these differences were not the same for men and women. After using the Bonferroni correction for multiple tests, the personality of infected men showed lower superego strength (rule consciousness) and higher vigilance (factors G and L on Cattell’s 16PF). Thus, the men were more likely to disregard rules and were more expedient, suspicious, jealous, and dogmatic. The personality of infected women, by contrast, showed higher warmth and higher superego strength (factors A and G on Cattell’s 16PF), suggesting that they were more warm hearted, outgoing, conscientious, persistent, and moralistic. Both men and women had significantly higher apprehension (factor O) compared with the uninfected controls.


See also: “How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy,” As the article notes, it’s not simply Krazy Kat Ladies who are risk; we all are:

After an infected cat defecates, Flegr learned, the parasite is typically picked up from the soil by scavenging or grazing animals—notably rodents, pigs, and cattle—all of which then harbor it in their brain and other body tissues. Humans, on the other hand, are exposed not only by coming into contact with litter boxes, but also, he found, by drinking water contaminated with cat feces, eating unwashed vegetables, or, especially in Europe, by consuming raw or undercooked meat. Hence the French, according to Flegr, with their love of steak prepared saignant—literally, “bleeding”—can have infection rates as high as 55 percent. (Americans will be happy to hear that the parasite resides in far fewer of them, though a still substantial portion: 10 to 20 percent.) Once inside an animal or human host, the parasite then needs to get back into the cat, the only place where it can sexually reproduce—and this is when, Flegr believed, behavioral manipulation might come into play.

Meanwhile, New Zealand has the right idea.


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