There are lots of cute products and books out there for teaching you how to toilet train your cat, so I sat down today to write about some of them as part of Litter Week. But as I researched, I found some very troubling information that I have to share with you.
Flushing Cat Feces *may be* Killing Sea Otters
It’s a complicated issue. Here’s how I understand it:
- Cat feces can* contain a dangerous parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, the same parasite that can cause birth defects in humans, which is why pregnant women are warned not to come in contact with cat feces.
- This parasite is not destroyed by sewage treatment and eventually makes its way into the ocean.
- Once in the ocean the parasite sinks to the bottom where it is consumed by creatures like crabs and sea stars, which are in turn eaten by sea otters. Sea otters are particularly susceptible to the parasite which causes brain damage and death.
- This is of particular concern on the California coast where the sea otter population that was once 15,000 has dwindled to 2,500. Research has shown that “in 17 percent of dead otters examined by the state Department of Fish and Game, the parasite was the primary cause of death” (source: Sacramento Bee, April 2, 2006).
- Flushing cat feces is not the only contributor to the problem. Feces from outdoor cats and feral cats can also make its way into the sewage system.
Please take this seriously
It is said that sea otters act as excellent sentinels, in the same way that canaries once did in mines, signaling larger problems in the ecosystem. So even if you think that by flushing cat feces you can’t possibly be affecting the sea otters in California, please think again.
What can you do to help?
Don’t flush cat feces. Recent legislation passed in California requiring labeling on all flushable cat litter warning consumers about the dangers of flushing cat feces. Instead, it is recommended that you deposit the feces in the trash. To minimize impact on the landfill, use a biodegradable litter and biodegradable bag, like paper bags when disposing of cat feces.
You can also look into some specific methods of composting that use the proper combination of time and temperature and can actually kill the parasite and create usable compost material. Stay tuned for more information.
*NOTE: This is a complicated issue because not all cats get the parasite and when they do they only shed the parasite for a specific period of time. Indoor only cats are less likely to have the parasite than outdoor cats. It is possible to have your cat’s feces tested if you want to toilet train your cat or flush waste. PLEASE do not think that this is any cause for anyone to get rid of a cat! The situation can be dealt with!
Toxoplasmosis Fact Sheet from the CDC
Sea Otters and Cat Feces – About.com: Cats
Cat Crap Showcase – Squidoo.com
Cat Poop & Sea Otters – Truffula Tuft
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Friends of the Sea Otter
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Please see the follow-up to this post for more information on this topic.