Toilet-Trained Cats Threaten Environment

This is nothing to LOL at, people. (Gordon Flood/Creative Commons License)

We receive a lot of feedback from readers here at HowStuffWorks. As you might expect, it runs the gambit, from ecstatic to snarky and from intelligently written to incoherent. And then sometimes, like yesterday, readers criticize us for "the science guy's advocacy of toilet training cats."

We never did figure out who "the science guy" in question is, but it perked my curiosity and, sure enough, there's some concern out there about the possibly disastrous effects of teaching cats to use human toilets.

According to a recent article from the Sacramento Bee, one of the biggest threats to the endangered California sea otter is ingestion of marine snails infected with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. This deadly killer also shows up in cat feces and may survive sewage treatment procedures. The parasite winds up back in the ocean, where bottom feeders like snails and sea crabs consume it. The sea otters then feed on these creatures, which can result in fatal brain infection. In fact, according to an article from the International Journal of Parasitology, T. gondii-associated meningoencephalitis is responsible for around 16 percent of California sea otter deaths.

Luckily, there are steps we can take to help, and blogs such as ModernCat are leading the charge. They recommend throwing cat litter away in the garbage and, yes, you might even have to un-toilet train your cat. Additionally, thanks to recent efforts by the California legislature, warning labels are popping up on litter products.

Previous studies, such as this one mentioned in this 2007 Guardian article, have also linked cat feces to whale deaths off the coast of Britain. And doctors have long urged pregnant women to avoid litter boxes, due to the threat the parasite poses to pregnancy.

So yeah, don't let Fluffy flush anything. And I don't even have to remind you about baby alligators.

Learn before you flush at How Cat Shows Work How Sewer and Septic Systems Work How Toilets Work Why are otters playful?

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.