I'm going to tell you a little secret, y'all. Ssh. Come closer. Here it is: Most news headlines are exaggerated and sensationalized. This is to get you to read them. But I have to set things straight when sensationalistic headlines are also irresponsible, like the ones linking cat litter boxes to suicide.
As a long time animal shelter volunteer, I shudder to think of the amount of people who are going to scan these headlines, pack up Fluffy, and haul her off to the nearest shelter. So let's examine these stories for a moment.
The stories grabbing your attention with clickable, attention-grabbing headlines like, "Cat ladies more likely to commit suicide," (UK Telegraph) and "Study links cat litter box to higher increased suicide risk," (ABC News) are referring to a study linking a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii to an increased suicide risk.
This parasite can be found in a large number of hosts -- including but not limited to cats, raw meat, dirt, birds, humans, rodents, pretty much any mammal. Notice, however, that only cats are reaping the headlines. If you want to look up "toxoplasmosis" on Wikipedia, you'll see that it says a more common way of catching this parasite is by digging in the earth or touching raw meat.
To catch this parasite from a cat, a bunch of things have to happen: Your cat has to have the parasite; it has to be shedding (i.e. active); you'd have to touch the feces of a cat, and then ingest the feces. But the headlines make it seem like just buying a litter box is enough to make you want to jump off the nearest bridge.
The link between toxoplasma gondii and suicide risk is taken from a study of women in Denmark (why only women??) who killed themselves and were presumed to have the parasite because their children did. What we DON'T know is whether ANY of the women owned cats. They could have gotten the parasite from another source. We don't know what other factors may have contributed to them committing suicide. The study's authors say there isn't enough information here to make any kind of conclusion. But this didn't stop the headlines from linking cats to suicide! (Not to mention that the "increased risk" is minimal at best.)
If you ARE worried about your cats making you want to jump in front of a train, there are some simple precautions you can take. Don't let your cats outside; they get the parasite from eating rodents. Wash your hands after cleaning the litter box or use gloves. Clean boxes with detergent and scalding hot water. There are also disposable litter boxes.
And remember, there are plenty of studies that say pet owners live longer than non-pet owners. Concentrate on those.
Are you worried your cat will make you want to kill yourself?
Image via Wapikoa/Flickr