Misguided Opposition Viewpoints

Unfortunately, some organizations are spreading inaccurate information about the risks associated with feral cats.  Foremost of those organizations is that of Alley Cat Allies.  While fervent advocacy is one thing, we must strongly object when advocacy organizations attempt to create their own facts.  Currently, the ‘fact’ sheet that is published on the web page of Alley Cat Allies is categorically false.  We cannot allow long standing public health policies to be overturned based on false information.  There is a reason the Florida Department of Health takes the position stated in the Rabies Guide.  No amount of passionate, emotional advocacy to the contrary changes the scientific facts.

While we may all be entitled to our own opinion, we are not entitled to our own set of facts.  Unfortunately, feral cat allies use classic misdirection tactics to attempt to defeat logic and reality.  These groups routinely twist and distort real facts, with the ultimate result being that truth becomes gray and shaded.  Scientific fact rarely is gray, particularly when discussing well settled medical principles.  One must wonder if feral cat advocates are willing to sacrifice children for the cat?

A short review of the Alley Cat Allies False Statements on their “fact” sheet follows:


False Statement:  “Science Shows Feral Cat Colonies Pose No Disease Risk to Humans – The health risks that catch and kill advocates most often blame on cats are intestinal parasites, rabies, flea-borne typhus, and toxoplasmosis. Yet the spread of these diseases has never been conclusively linked to feral cats.”

Truth:  Intestinal parasites, rabies, and toxoplasmosis are absolutely linked to feral cats, and the cat is the DEFINITIVE HOST (meaning it would not exist without the sexual reproduction which occurs in the cats gut) of toxoplasmosis.  You can read about all these subjects in peer reviewed journal articles by doctors on our health concerns page here, and you can also read about the cat being the definitive host for T. Gondii (the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis) on the CDC web page here, as well as reading about all the different diseases that cats can cause on the CDC web page here.  Keep in mind that the CDC site is about healthy pets, which means indoor, owned cats!  Indoor, owned cats are very low risk for these diseases, but unowned cats are in fact very high risk for these diseases.  That is the reason the Florida Department of Health maintains the statement quoted at the beginning of our webpages, which can be read here.


False Statement:  “No Danger From Rabies – The notion that stray cats spread rabies is another empty argument used by advocates of catch and kill programs.”

Truth:  Rabies is plainly spread by stray cats (and sometimes owned cats that roam outside)!  This is proven in the Rabies Guide, as well as the CDC paper which can be read here that states, “Cats are the domestic animal most frequently diagnosed with rabies in the United States [11]. Cases among cats are most common in the eastern United States [10], the region recently affected by an epizootic of rabies associated with raccoons. In 2001, rabid cats outnumbered rabid dogs by 3 to 1 (270 cats, 89 dogs).”  In 2010, the CDC reported that cats were again the domesticated species most likely to have rabies, at a rate of more than 3-1, as shown here.  Further, of the 8% of domesticated animals shown to have rabies, more than half of that number were cats, as shown here (303 cats and 4.9% of all reports).


False Statement:  “Most Cases of Toxoplasmosis Stem from Undercooked Food, Not Cats – Catch and kill advocates sometimes argue for killing feral cats because they can transmit toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that spreads via Toxoplasma oocysts shed in the feces of an infected animal.”

Truth:  All toxoplasmosis originates in cats, not “an infected animal” as if to suggest we don’t know which animal!  T. Gondii is only able to reproduce in the gut of the cat, as shown here.  Most importantly, recent studies make clear that our ability to differentiate between the two infectious stages of T. Gondii, that of oocysts (from the cat) and tissue cysts (from intermediate hosts like rats and birds) has changed our base of knowledge.  Those studies show that in fact our meat supply has a low frequency of toxoplasmosis.  This 2011 study which can be read here is published by a veritable who’s who of leading pediatric doctors and infectious disease experts.  The paper observes that “It is important to both inform susceptible individuals and the general populations that meat should be cooked thoroughly, fruits and vegetables should be washed before consumption, and contact with oocysts should be avoided, particularly when changing cat litter. Nonetheless, the data reveal that ownership of a cat is not necessary to acquire T. gondii, because it has been shown that oocyst exposure is not always associated with cat ownership or with recognition of risk factors. In the United States, there are an estimated 73 million feral cats and 78 million domestic cats [31], which allows for environmental contamination by oocysts to be the source of infection even for those who do not own cats. Hill et al recently determined that there was a low prevalence of tissue cysts currently in retail meats in the United States, including beef, chicken, and pork [32]. The low frequency of infected meat suggests that cats potentially were a cause for much T. gondii infection in the United States.”  Because toxo has also been linked to schizophrenia and other substantial health issues, as well as being the cause of death for 10% of all AIDS patients, we should do everything possible to minimize the risk of T. Gondii.


False Statement: Most Cases of Toxoplasmosis Stem from Undercooked Food, Not Cats.

Truth:  All cases of toxoplasmosis come from cats; without the definitive host there would be no T. Gondii.  Most importantly, the paper cited above plainly states that there is a low frequency of infected meat (which happens when infected rats and birds primarily, which are known as intermediate hosts, defecate in the food supply after being infected by ingesting T. Gondii parasites).  From the paper above, and others which can be found on our public health page of this site, it is becoming clear that T. Gondii is being spread by cats far more than previously understood.


False Statement: Even if a cat is infected with Toxoplasma, it typically only sheds the disease-spreading oocysts for a few weeks. To catch an infection, a person would need to have direct contact with these infected feces. Most people go out of their way to avoid touching the contents of their pet cat’s litter box, and they’re even less likely to touch feral cat feces. In other words, even if a feral cat leaves feces in your garden, you would need to touch it and then somehow ingest the feces to get toxoplasmosis.

Truth:  It is NOT necessary to have direct contact with the feces of the cat.  This is an absurd statement which plainly reflects the falsity of the alleged ‘fact sheet’ by Alley Cat.  As the paper above, and numerous others found on our public health page make clear, T. Gondii is shed into the soil via the feces by the millions every time a cat toilets.  These parasites, particularly in warm environments like Florida, are capable of living in the soil for years.  They are spread by bugs and other environmental conditions and are even showing up in our water supply and in marine mammals.  These statements are established in the scientific papers (by the CDC and others) found on our site here.  More about this issue can be examined in detail on our public health and wildlife predation pages.  Toxoplasmosis has been associated with Schizophrenia, and is responsible for 10% of all AIDS deaths.  This isn’t a parasite to take lightly, and any public policy that spreads the risk of toxoplasmosis must be avoided.


False Statement:  Here, Alley Cat badly distorts an actual scientific paper.  They do this in an attempt to establish that outdoor feral cats are perfectly fine and not disease vectors, when they write, “a 2002 review of cat-associated diseases published in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that, “cats should not be thought of as vectors for disease transmission.”

Truth:  Below is what the cited paper actually says, beginning with the opening paragraph, which makes clear that this paper is about “owners and their pets”, not about feral outdoor cats.  The second paragraph is the one from which the above quote is so badly mis-used, and a full reading of the paragraph makes clear (again) that the author is plainly talking about owned, indoor cats.  This is obvious as he observes, “Many diseases are more likely to be encountered by outdoor cats that can acquire infections from hunting.”

Perhaps most shocking about the use of this paper is that Alley Cat alleges cats are not the source of these diseases, yet uses this paper to allege feral cats are safe while ignoring the fact this paper makes clear that these diseases absolutely come from cats!!!

From the published paper being cited (which can be read here):

Opening paragraph – “Cats co-occupy one third of all residences in the United States. As common household pets, they serve as sources of joy and companionship for their owners. However, feline ownership also comes with its own inherent risks, as cats can transmit an array of diseases to their owners, ranging from trivial to fatal ailments. By understanding the pathogenesis of cat-associated diseases, owners and their pets can live together with little risk of disease transmission. This article reviews cat-related diseases, with an emphasis on their prevention and management.”

And the paragraph quoted from: “There are many diseases that can be linked to transmission from cats. Many diseases are more likely to be encountered by outdoor cats that can acquire infections from hunting. Indoor cats are less likely to be sources of human infections…Also, routine veterinary care, including appropriate vaccinations, deworming, and care for sick animals, should reduce the risk of disease transmission. Cats should not be thought of as vectors for disease transmission, but as sources of joy and companionship for their owners.”

Do you really think the author is talking about feral, outdoor, unowned cats?