Sure, sometimes cats can seemingly drive you crazy with their behavior, but evidence suggests that feline pets could make you insane…literally.
According to an article in The Atlantic, a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which is commonly found in the feces of outdoor cats, could make humans with weak immune systems suffer from mental disorders, including self-destructive behavior and even suicide. People with weak immune systems include the elderly and pregnant women.
The parasite causes toxoplasmosis, and infected pregnant women can transmit the disease to their fetus, which can result in severe brain damage and even death. This is the reason doctors’ stress that pregnant women avoid their cat’s litter box.
Scientifically, T. gondii latches onto your brain and increases the sensitivity of dopamine receptors, which control pleasure and fear responses. The piece cited a study of rats, and noted that rodents infected with the parasite were less cautious and more active than their uninfected counterparts. It also noted that infected rats were actually attracted to the smell of cats.
But a cat litter box isn’t the only place the parasite is found: undercooked meat and unwashed vegetables are other potential sources. The article suggests that people keep their counters clean and disinfected and purify their drinking water.