Adult Supervision Required II

In my haste to get my previous post online, I neglected to address a critical point (later brought to my attention by a particularly helpful reader). So, a brief follow-up…

In “Feral Cats and Their Management,” the authors point out—correctly, in this case—that “most feral cats (62 percent to 80 percent) tested positive for toxoplasmosis.” [1] But the rate of cats testing positive—or seroprevalence—is not a useful measure of their ability to infect other animals or people.

According to Dubey and Jones, “Most cats seroconvert after they have shed oocysts. Thus, it is a reasonable assumption that most seropositive cats have already shed oocysts.” [2]

“Testing positive,” in this case, is nothing more than the detection of antibodies resulting from seroconversion (the same process, by the way, that takes place in humans after receiving a flu shot).

And so, any argument for killing feral cats based on their high T. Gondii seroprevalence is deeply flawed (and, it should be obvious, on very shaky ground ethically). According to this line of reasoning, we might well consider quarantining humans testing positive for flu antibodies.

TNR: The Solution, Not the Problem
If T. gondii in feral cats is really the concern, then the focus should be on removing young cats from “high-risk” environments. Sound familiar? That’s a significant part of what TNR programs do.

As Dubey and Jones point out, T. gondii prevalence tends to be higher in feral cats than pet or owned cats. [2] So, getting kittens adopted—a key feature of TNR—reduces the likelihood of their becoming T. gondii “contributors” in the future.

And adoption numbers seem to be significant. In 2003, Merritt Clifton of Animal People, an independent newspaper dedicated to animal protection issues, suggested that “up to a third of all pet cats now appear to be recruited from the feral population.”

One can actually make the argument that TNR—dismissed more or less out of hand by Hildreth, Vantassel, and Hygnstrom—may well be the best defense currently available against the spread of Toxoplasmosis (not only in terms of stabilizing/reducing population numbers overall, but also in that it reduces number of kittens potentially exposed to T. gondii).

Hunting for Scapegoats
Finally, one more interesting note from Dubey and Jones (whose paper is referenced in “Feral Cats and Their Management”):

“In addition to live prey, eviscerated tissues (gut piles) from hunted deer and black bears would be a source of infection for wild cats… Prevalence of T. gondii in wild game and venison in the USA is very high and hunters need to be aware of the risk of transmission of infection to humans and, more importantly, spread of infection in the environment. The viscera of hunted animals need to be buried to prevent scavenging by animals, especially cats.” [2]

But Hildreth et al. prefer to focus (or, take aim, as the case may be) solely on feral cats. Though their motives aren’t clear to me, there’s no doubt whatsoever that they have little understanding of the key issues surrounding TNR—never mind the relevant science.

Literature Cited
1. Hildreth, A.M., Vantassel, S.M., and Hygnstrom, S.E., Feral Cats and Their Managment. 2010, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension: Lincoln, NE.

2. Dubey, J.P. and Jones, J.L., “Toxoplasma gondii infection in humans and animals in the United States.” International Journal for Parasitology. 2008. 38(11): p. 1257-1278.

3. Clifton, M. Where cats belong—and where they don’t. Animal People 2003 [cited 2009 December 24].