Feeling sexy or brave? Maybe your cat is responsible. Toxoplasma gondil’s, a parasite carried in cat feces has been discovered to alter the brains of rats and mice so that they mistake a cat’s odor for an invitation to romance. Rodents that don’t run away from their arch predators aren’t brave, they’ve been brain washed. It’s nature’s way. The parasite “can only reproduce sexually in the feline gut.” And the best way to get there is via mice that see a cat as sexually attractive. (“Played by a Parasite,” by Gustavo Arizabalaga and Bill Sullivan, Scientific American Mind, March/April 2015 pg. 64 & 65.)
Too bad for mice and rats but why should humans care? Only pregnant women need worry about the parasitize as it could endanger a fetus. Otherwise, The human gut isn’t hospitable to the bug. If ingested, it forms a harmless cyst in the tissue of the body. And unlike rodents, our fear and arousal systems aren’t close enough in the brain to allow the parasite to alter neural activity. Or, so we thought.
Research conducted by Jaroslava Flegr of Charles University in Prague gives us reason to doubt our former assumptions. The parasite may have mind altering powers in humans, after all. “…certain traits often coincide with Toxoplasma infection. For example, infected men tend to be introverted, suspicious and rebellious, whereas women tend to be extraverted, trusting and obedient.” (Ibid pg. 67.) The study was small, but the evidence is significant enough to call for further investigation.
Petting a cat poses no danger. Toxoplasma gondil is found in the feces. Unfortunately, there are other sources of contamination. Grazing animals, like sheep or cattle, develop cysts from contact with the earth where the parasite lives. Eating raw or undercooked meat can pose a danger. Plants aren’t susceptible to the bug, but fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed before eaten.
As for cats, it’s best to remember that while they have 9 lives, humans don’t.