What: Parasite spread by cat poop is killing CA’s native sea otters
A single-celled organism called Toxoplasma gondii has been determined to be responsible for several dozen recent California sea otter deaths. Although the parasite is carried by a number of warm-blooded animals, it actually requires a cat host in order to reproduce and spread.
Common house cats all over the state are ingesting the parasite when they come in contact with infected birds, mammals, and rodents. When infected cats defecate outside or when their feces is disposed of improperly (such as flushed down the toilet), the organisms reach marine waters. From there, they attach to snails which are then eaten by sea otters. Monk seals, beluga whales, and dolphins are also at risk.
According to scientists, “T. gondii hampers otters’ brain function, causing swelling, seizures, disorientation, weakness and eventually death. Animals that survive the initial onslaught of infection remain at risk, as their lack of motor skills leaves them vulnerable to shark attacks and fatal encounters with boats.”
The parasite is not harmful to cats. Cat parents in San Francisco, Monterrey, Los Angeles, and Orange County are encouraged to keep their cats indoors to prevent the spread of the bacteria. When disposing of cat feces, do so in a trash bag and not in the toilet.