Are 'Crazy Cat Ladies' Caused by a Protozoan?

Posted by Tori Holmes
the cat sits on a photo album, an old woman hands stroking his

Whether you know one or take pride in being one, there is a "crazy cat lady" (or "crazy cat man") in all of our lives. But what causes this intense love of felines?

As it turns out, scientists are aware that felines are able to control the behavior of mammals around them. How you ask? Through a protozoan that lives in their stool called Toxoplasma gondii (or Toxo for short).

Toxo can travel to a mammal's brain, causing a drastic change in behavior. For example, rats that have been exposed to Toxo no longer avoid areas where cats are and seem to be attracted to the smell of cat urine, causing them to come straight to their predator without fear.

Unfortunately, humans can also contract Toxo. Those with compromised immune systems and who are pregnant, in particular, are at risk of contracting it when interacting with a cat's litter box. If contracted, serious brain lesions and blindness occur.

But what about those who have strong immune systems and are not pregnant - could Toxo be playing a role in their cat-loving behavior?

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man and his cat

Scientists believe that Toxo can also have more subtle effects on the human brain. Toxo is made up, in part, of an enzyme that creates a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Studies have shown that when given excess dopamine, humans display an increase of impulsive, risky, or psychotic behaviors.

While some cat lovers may display these behaviors, it's hardly generalizable to the group. To confirm this, researchers at the University College in London conducted a study of over 10,000 teens and young adults to see if early exposure to cats in the household contributed to the risk of experiencing psychotic episodes.

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Thankfully, the results of the study showed that those who grew up around cats are not at an increased risk of psychosis. In other words, owning a cat does not contribute to impulsive or psychotic behaviors.

Based on this, it's safe to say that the behavior of crazy cat ladies and men are not caused by a something sinister like Toxo. It must just be because everything cats do is so stinking adorable!

What do you think? Tell us in the comments below. 

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Are 'Crazy Cat Ladies' Caused by a Protozoan?