Cat feces warnings

July 9, 2013 2:37:18 PM PDT
New research shows that for the last 20 years, the cat population has been on the rise. They deposit an estimated 1.2 million metric tons of feces into the environment every year, and a new study is calling it a potential public health problem.

Cat feces are known to sometimes contain a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis.

Recent studies have linked toxoplasmosis to eye infections, schizophrenia and rheumatoid arthritis in otherwise healthy people. But experts say it's too soon to say.

"Right now the jury's still out it's very preliminary data," said Dr. Tracy Zivin-Tutell with St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital.

Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Zivin-Tutella says toxoplasmosis is still most concerning for people with weakened immune systems.

"You have a higher risk of it affecting your brain, your eye," she said.

And the parasite is known to cause problems in newborns of infected mothers which is why doctors tell pregnant women not to change the litter box.

Stray cats and cats that go outdoors are the biggest concern.

Cats pick up the parasite from eating infected animals or birds.

"If infected they go through his brief period where in their feces are tons of these oocysts," said Dr. Arnold Plotnik with Manhattan Cat Specialists.

Those cysts get into the soil and environment which can get on our hands. We get it from eating infected meat, or contaminated vegetables. Kids can get it from playgrounds and contaminated sandboxes.

But the overall risk is low ?even for pet owners and especially if your cat is always indoors.

The message for all of us is to scrub your vegetables, cook your meat thoroughly, wear gloves if you're gardening, and wash your hands when you come back inside.