I used to joke about my cat owning me, but science says that might not be so far-fetched after all.
It sounds like something out of a horror movie. An infectious disease makes rats and mice lose their natural fear of cats, making them easier to catch, kill and discard on our doorsteps as a tribute — or a warning. This disease is Toxoplasma gondii, the very same bacteria that the CDC warns pregnant women to avoid.
After reading a study on the bacteria, I gave my cat a long, searching look. She meowed at me convincingly, rubbing herself innocently against my ankles and herded me toward the cupboard where her food lives. I fed her, refilled her water bowl and later scooped her litter box, where Toxoplasma gondii lurks in feline feces.
That was when the doubts began to seep in. Was my cat controlling me?
The study in question was published in 2013 by a team of scientists interested in the long-term effects of Toxoplasma gondii in rodents. They, apparently, already knew that cats had creepy dominion over their food, something that nobody bothered to tell me. What the scientists found was that once infected, mice and rats lost their natural fear of cats for good, even after all signs of the infection were gone.
Toxoplasma gondii is found all over the world and can infect both mammals and birds but only reproduces in the intestinal tract of its host, the cat. To me, this sounds like one of the more devious methods of mind control I've heard of. I had a long conversation with my cat, and she refused to answer any of my questions about her motives.
Since my cat was not forthcoming and the scientific study failed to answer my most pressing question (was my brain also being controlled by my cat?), I decided to do a little research into the origin of the human and cat relationship. The results further deepened my suspicions.
Archaeological records indicate that cats domesticated themselves over 10,000 years ago, with extra cuddly felines deciding to join our ancestors around the fire. Their motives, as my cat illustrates for me daily, seem clear. I provide her with everything she needs, and in return, she does literally nothing, except maybe cuddle on her own mystifying terms.
Toxoplasma gondii is linked to several psychological disorders in people, including schizophrenia, OCD, bipolar disorder and even clumsiness, not to mention the physical side effects and the disturbing impact the disease has on our cats' only competition for our affection — our children.
The study does not go into detail about whether or not the effects the disease had on mice could also occur in people. Certainly the symptoms would be different as there is little reason to fear our feline friends. Or so I like to tell myself.
Why, then, are we so obsessed with cats? The Egyptians worshiped them, they have long been featured in folklore as both good and evil entities and they are probably the most googled thing on the internet. I am not a scientist, but the evidence certainly suggests that our cats have ulterior motives.
Or maybe that is just the Toxoplasma gondii talking.
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