One of the less glamorous aspects of owning a cat is dealing with his litter box. It's a dirty, unappreciated task, but if certain precautions are not observed, it could also literally make you sick. Cat feces can carry various nasty surprises, which can pass to you or other pets.
Illness-causing bacteria can appear in litter boxes if your cat is sick or has eaten something tainted with a microscopic baddie. Examples include E. coli and salmonella, which can occur if your cat eats tainted, undercooked meat. Some commercially sold cat foods have been recalled in the past for the presence of this bacteria, so never assume that your cat is free of risk for exposure. Litter boxes are not exactly shining examples of perfect hygiene.
The ugly truth is that most cats will play host to some manner of parasite at some point in their lives. An unsettling thought by itself, but when you consider that the unwelcome guest could spread to you or your other pets by way of your infected cat's poop, it's enough to turn your stomach. Common parasites such as roundworms or tapeworms typically spread their eggs by way of your cat's stool, and can pass from cat to cat through a shared litter box. Your dog could also get the nasty freeloaders if he has access to the litter box and likes to, ahem, snack on the “treats” inside.
When talking about litter box nasties, one condition that typically comes to mind is Toxoplasmosis, which is caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Pregnant women are often warned to stay away from the litter box -- or in some cases get rid of their cat entirely – to avoid contracting this disease, as it can cause birth defects. Cats contract it by eating infected prey animals or undercooked meat, or by walking through contaminated soil. The parasite typically doesn't cause any problems for the cat, aside from a little diarrhea or other brief period of illness. For two weeks after exposure, your cat can pass the infectious stage of the parasite, meaning that anyone – human or animal – who comes into contact with his feces is vulnerable to infestation.
Unless you train your cat to use the toilet -- which is possible, believe it or not -- he's going to need a litter box, and you're going to have to clean up after him. Avoiding the icky creepy-crawlies in his box is a fairly easy feat as long as you take a few precautions. Scoop or change his box every day to minimize the risk of infection, and wear gloves while cleaning. Thoroughly sanitize the box with a bleach solution to kill anything that may still be hanging around. Keep your cat indoors to keep him from hunting possibly contaminated prey, and thoroughly cook all meat before feeding him. Wash your hands thoroughly after dealing with your cat's litter box. Keep him healthy with regular visits to the veterinarian.
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