Pet Peeve: cats need to be kept indoors, says new research



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At least one discussion among cat lovers is over: Whiskers, Lucy and Tigger are definitely better off staying at home, scientists said on Wednesday.

At least one discussion among cat lovers is over: Whiskers, Lucy and Tigger are definitely better off staying at home, scientists said on Wednesday.

Pets allowed in the open air, in fact, are almost three times more likely to become infected with pathogens or parasites than those confined in neighborhoods, they reported in the Royal Society's Biology Letters.
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Two-legged companions should also take note, because cats – such as Felis catus – may transmit some of these diseases to humans, the authors said.
Curiously, the more domesticated felines are from the equator, the more likely they are to be affected by some kind of insect or virus if they spend time outdoors.

"Each degree in absolute latitude increased the likelihood of infection by 4%," said Kayleigh Chalkowski, a researcher at the School of Forestry and Wildlife at Auburn University in Alabama.

"You think tropical regions have more wildlife, more parasites," she told AFP. "But it turned out that latitude had the opposite effect."

To solve the inner-outer-outer issue once and for all, Chalkowski and his colleagues examined nearly two dozen previous studies in which the prevalence of one or more diseases was compared between indoor and outdoor environments.

In total, the new study looked at 19 different cat pathogens in more than a dozen countries, including Spain, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Pakistan, Brazil, the Netherlands and St. Kitts.

"This is the first time that overseas access as a risk factor for infection in cats has been quantified in a wide range of geographic locations and types of pathogens," said Chalkowski.

The effects were consistent for almost all diseases, including the feline worm and the unicellular parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, which can affect humans.

This was true regardless of how they were transmitted – whether from the ground, other cats or prey, such as rats and birds.

"Basically, no matter where you are in the world, keeping your cat indoors is a great way to keep you healthy against infectious diseases," Chalkowski said in a nutshell.

This is especially good advice, she added, "considering that many of the pathogens that cats carry can actually spread to humans."

Other domestic animals transmit diseases to their caregivers – dogs, for example, spread rabies, and cattle carry Cryptosporidium parvum, a parasitic disease that attacks the intestinal tract.

Wild cats were probably attracted to human communities in search of rodents and were domesticated about 5,000 years ago. In ancient Egypt, they were associated with gods and placed in hieroglyphics.

There are about 90 million pet cats in the United States and an estimated 500 million cats worldwide.

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