Cats pass disease to wildlife, even in remote areas

May 12, 2011
The researchers found that animals that inhabit relatively small territories, such as this white-footed mouse, are good sentinels of T. gondii in a natural area. Credit: Illinois Natural History Survey

Researchers tracking the spread of Toxoplasma gondii – a parasite that reproduces only in cats but sickens and kills many other animals – have found infected wildlife throughout a 1,500-acre (600-hectare) natural area in central Illinois.

The researchers also found dozens of free-ranging in the area, the Robert Allerton Park, near Monticello, Ill. Two years of tracking, trapping and motion-triggered night photography at eight sites in the park found no evidence of bobcats, but plenty of examples of feral or abandoned house cats, many of them infected with Toxoplasma.

The research appears in the Journal of Diseases.

T. gondii reproduces in cats and is shed in their feces. Other animals pick it up from soil or water or by eating infected animals. Infection can lead to neurological problems, and sometimes death, in humans and other animals.

The researchers trapped, sedated and collected blood samples from 18 cats and hundreds of other mammals, including raccoons, opossums, squirrels, mice, woodchucks, chipmunks and rabbits. All of the animals were tagged and released where they were found.

One third of the cats sampled were infected with T gondii, as were significant numbers of the wild animals found at every site. Animals that inhabit or range over territories of 247 acres (100 hectares) or more, such as raccoons and opossums, were more likely to be infected than those with smaller ranges.

But these animals "could have acquired T. gondii infection somewhere outside of the park," said Nohra Mateus-Pinilla, a wildlife veterinary epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Prairie Research Institute and leader of the study. Animals with smaller home ranges likely picked up the infection close to where they were trapped, she said. This makes these animals good sentinels of disease in a natural area.

"The small animals are screening the environment for us," she said. "So when we sample one of those animals, we are really sampling their lifestyle."

The absence of bobcats in the park combined with the occurrence of domestic cats and T. gondii infection in wildlife that inhabit small territories strongly suggest that feral,
free-ranging or abandoned house cats are the source of the infection, Mateus-Pinilla said. Cats are vital for the survival of the parasite, and so they are – either directly or indirectly – spreading T. gondii to the wildlife in the park. "There's no other option," she said.

The researchers also found that "small-home-range" animals were more likely to test positive for T. gondii if they lived near human structures in the park or in areas where there were a lot of cats, said lead author Shannon Fredebaugh, a graduate student who completed her master's degree with the study. But the researchers also found infected small-home-range animals in remote areas where fewer cats were seen.

"If one infected cat defecates there, any area can become infected," Fredebaugh said. "It just takes one cat to bring disease to an area."

Explore further: Scottish zoo: 'Bad news' for pregnant giant panda

More information: "Prevalence of Antibody to Toxoplasma Gondii in Terrestrial Wildlife in a Natural Area," Journal of Wildlife Diseases.

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User comments : 3

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Au-Pu
not rated yet May 13, 2011
The answer is to eradicate cats.
Woodsman
not rated yet May 21, 2011
A little insight, now you'll know why cat-lovers actually do what they do.

Territorial Behavior By Expendable Proxy

I have come to the firm conclusion that the majority of cat-lovers that let their invasive-species roam free, and those that want feral cats to invade public property, are only using cats as a proxy for their own territorial behavior. Like youth that will disrespectfully use loud music to stake-out territory. If they can have one of their cats destroy another's yard and the owner not have any recourse, the cat-owner owns that territory. It's time stop them and their "cute kitty" excuse for usurping and stealing others' property. If they want territory they can buy it. Instead they're putting (and sacrificing) live animals in the path of their goals. They only want your yard or forest while making all others suffer. Bottom line--they want to control you and your property. It's why they don't care if their cat nor anything else is harmed by their goals and lack of values.
Woodsman
not rated yet May 21, 2011
Dear members of Vox Felina, members of Alley Cat Allies, and any other feral cat relocation groups,

Here's something you really need to read:

biological warfare n. (Abbr. BW) The use of disease-producing microorganisms, toxic biological products, or organic biocides to cause death or injury to humans, animals, or plants.

Given the above information about cats harboring dangerous biological agents that are harmful to all wildlife and humans (which you knew), as well as the cats themselves being just as harmful if not more-so (which you also knew), and the above information about your TRUE motives, the fact that you want to infest public and private properties with these harmful biological agents means that EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU CAN AND WILL eventually be held responsible for the crimes that you are committing against all of humanity and all of nature.

May you all rot in prison as soon as possible.