This parasite may be living inside you and making you a cat lover

Hangai Lilla

2024. May 26 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Cats are a divisive character in the animal world: they are either hated or adored. Whichever camp you fall into, you may find your dream less sweet after reading the following.


When you think of cats, which parasite comes to mind first? It’s probably Toxoplasma gondii, which is very likely to already be in your system, making you love cats. Even before you start ritually disinfecting, we suggest you calm down. Your identity is not at stake; read on to find out how this well-engineered and efficient system works when it comes to you.

Getting infected is so easy

According to one study about 11% of the US population aged 6 years and older has  or have had the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which causes an infection called toxoplasmosis. In only 10-20% of cases does the disease produce symptoms or signs that you would not necessarily think it is the condition. These include swelling of the neck lymph nodes, fever, sore throat and difficulty swallowing. If the immune system is weakened for some reason, the course of the disease is unfortunately more severe. In this case, it causes inflammation of the nervous system, which can manifest as meningitis, encephalitis.

It is not difficult to become infected with this parasite as a human, as all mammals are susceptible. It is enough to come into contact in some way – not necessarily directly – with the faeces of an already infected cat. This parasite infects any organism in order to reach its final destination, the cat. It needs it because it can only live here, the cat’s gut is the only place where it can reproduce.

As can be seen above, in most cases the infection is harmless, but the effects beyond the symptoms listed are quite impressive.

Symptoms of toxoplasmosis may be similar to those of the common cold

Toxoplasma gondii and humans

As the journal Practical Psychology the mental side effects of toxoplasmosis are both shocking and fascinating. Although studies are ongoing, it appears that the presence of the parasite may be associated with mental disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. It is thought that its effect on rats explains how it can survive for so long and spread efficiently.

The exact science behind this process is not yet known, but experts have come up with the following theory. At certain stages of life, the T. gondii parasite can enter the brain through the mammalian white blood cells, where it can actually cause very pleasant side effects. Studies in rats have shown that it increases dopamine levels. Dopamine, among many other things, play a role in reward, motivation and addiction. This may be why infected rats become so incredibly excited to be around cat poo.

For T. gondii, this is good, because where there is cat poo, there is a cat. It has been observed that infected rats do not seem to be able to think clearly. They seek out the company of cats on their own accord. This may also be linked to the fact that people infected with toxoplasmosis are more risk-taking and more likely to seek out danger, according to one study.

Try to do the dirty work as cleanly as possible

After chewing over this, you will understand why scientists assume that people infected with T. gondiiare more attracted to cats than usual. Well, maybe it’s not the velvety paws, the wispy whiskers and the floofy head that makes us adore him. Come on, of course they are! Or at least they are…

How to avoid infection

Although, as mentioned earlier, toxoplasmosis rarely causes serious symptoms, it is still worth avoiding. If you follow these tips, you will almost certainly be free from parasite attack:

  • Drink only purified water.
  • If you eat raw food, wash it thoroughly, as well as your hands and anything else that may have come into contact with it during preparation.
  • Avoid unpasteurised milk, especially goat’s milk.
  • After scooping out the litter, disinfect your hands and the area and wear a mask. (You can also easily catch the parasite by inhaling the infected dust that rises from the litter.)

Click here to learn about the symptoms of toxoplasmosis in cats, how to treat it and how to protect your pet.

infection parasite toxoplasma gondii toxoplasmosis zoonosis

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