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Friday, August 29, 2008

Kitty Cats and Sea Otters

The cats...the otters...is there a connection?

Actually, it looks like there is. I've had kitties all my life, literally: my mom's cat had her kittens under my crib the day after I was born. When I was growing up, we had as many as thirty at a time.

But I fell in love with river otters the first time I saw them at the Tennessee Aquarium, and then with sea otters. It's so sad that sea otter populations have seriously decreased along the California coast. It's even sadder that it appears they're dying because of a disease they've caught from cats: Toxoplasma gondii. I'll give you the short, short version.

Otters are dying of Toxoplasma gondii, or "toxo" for short. Many animals can get toxo, but only cats shed the "eggs," in their feces. Somehow, toxo is getting from cat feces to the otters. The leading theory is that flushed litter and wastes is surviving the sewage treatment plants, then ending up in the ocean. Either the otters are picking it up directly, or it's contaminating something else then infecting them, such as shellfish.

So, to protect ocean wildlife, especially otters, we have to keep toxo out of the ocean. To do that, we have to keep it out of the groundwater, sewers, and streams.

Don't flush used cat litter; any toxo in the feces, even in trace amounts, may survive the sewage treatment facilities.

Don't wash used litter or cat feces into storm drains. Often, this water goes into streams and rivers, then to the ocean.

Dispose of cat feces by bagging in plastic and placing in the trash (if laws allow) or burying it at least six inches deep where it can't contaminate the ground water. Cat litter should not be used in a home compost heap: it's very unlikely it will get hot enough to kill the toxo.

Facts about Toxo and Cat Poop from the Sea Otter Alliance
Wikipedia article on Toxoplasma
Parasite in Cats Killing Sea Otters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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