Breaking news: cats can drive you crazy. Alright, so maybe that’s late-breaking news, but anyone with a cat can testify that their feline’s furniture-scratching and late-night energy bursts can be enough to trigger more than a few headaches.
However, recent studies show that owning cats can have a very real effect on our brains. Scientific evidence suggests there’s a reason to be especially careful when cleaning out your cat’s litter box. Your sanity just might depend on it…
If you’ve ever lain awake at night, staring at the ceiling while your cat is bouncing off the walls, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise when people say your feline friend will drive you crazy. But did you know the problem might be more serious than you think?
Recent studies reveal there is evidence linking cats to human craziness in more than just the metaphorical sense. That’s right: your precious kitty could actually be driving you bonkers, but you’ll be surprised to learn why…
野貓王 / Flickr
Apparently, it’s not just the nighttime crazies that cats are prone to that have their owners losing their minds. Rather, there’s something specific that cats carry that affects our brain chemistry…
The Times of Chester County
The real culprit in question is a micro-organism known as Toxoplasma gondii (or T. gondii). This bacteria is present in cat urine, and cat lovers may come into contact with it regularly! As if you needed another reason to be grossed out by the litter box…
Tom Thai / Flickr
Still, avoiding T. gondii requires more than just washing your hands after scooping cat litter. In fact, according to a 2016 article in the New York Times, as many as 11 percent of Americans had “dormant Toxoplasma cysts in their brains.” Yikes.
Chris Warren / Flickr
Luckily, having T. gondii in your bloodstream isn’t enough to send you over the edge—a healthy immune system keeps adverse effects at bay. Still, cat owners aren’t totally out of the woods when it comes to this bacteria…
Kaushal Vaidya / Flickr
To fully understand the proposed link between T. gondii and human craziness, you have to look at the function of the bacteria, the way it has evolved over the years, and how cats have even used it to their advantage!
T. gondii is spread when a cat consumes something contaminated with the bacteria, which then reproduces in its digestive system. It’s passed through urine and feces, which then infects other animals—namely, rats.
Studies show that rats that have been infected with T. gondii actually lose their sense of fear toward cats. Astonishing? Yes. And it gets even weirder than that if you can believe it…
Rats who don’t fear cats won’t run away from them. This means the cat gets an easy meal… and the bacteria is passed on to a new host, where the cycle continues. There are even further connections to the bacteria and how it affects humans, though.
After recognizing how the T. gondii bacteria affected rats’ brains, scientists took their research one step further: they looked at how the bacteria affected chimpanzees, the closest human ancestor.
Nosilla ogra / Wikimedia
For this part of the study, researchers didn’t use house cat urine as they had for the rats. Instead, Clémence Poirotte, an evolutionary biologist in Montpellier, France, dabbed drops of leopard and human urine on a fence enclosing 33 test apes to see what would happen…
So, what did they find? Chimpanzees infected with the T. gondii started sniffing the leopard urine much more than those not infected with it. They were actually attracted to the urine with this bacteria!
KaaSatha / DeviantArt
Of course, scientists wouldn’t declare this definitive proof that T. gondii was eliminating the life-preserving “fear instinct” in chimps, but it certainly raised some interesting questions…
Pierre-Hadrien Pottier / The Verge
If T. gondii was capable of making chimps less afraid of the things that could kill them, was it possible the bacteria could have the same effect on humans, as well? Are T. gondii infections that are passed on from house cats responsible for “creating” daredevils?
NY Daily News
A 2015 edition of the Journal of Psychiatric Research asserted that humans infected with the bacteria were more prone to impulse or aggression. So it could, in fact, be the reason some of us are risk-takers!
justinclayton99 / Flickr
Other research suggests links between T. gondii and some unfortunate events: Though the numbers were negligible, the study found people with infections attempted suicide more often than those without. Of course, correlation doesn’t always indicate causation.
Moreover, a recent study published in a 2015 edition of Schizophrenia Research suggested a connection between people who had been exposed to cats from a young age and the development of mental illness later in life.
Still, it’s worth it to note that the scientific community hasn’t drawn any definitive conclusions, and it’s currently engaged in a spirited debate over whether this evidence is conclusive or just a coincidence…
maiu maiu / Flickr
Even if they don’t make you crazy, cats can still be deadly. Yes, as much as we love all the purrs and meows, there is one breed of cat out there that is widely feared… and it’s probably not what you’d expect.
Mikael Moiner / Flickr
We learn from an early age that lions are the kings of the jungle and, just below them, are other big cats like tigers, cheetahs, and panthers. They’ve all more than earned their reputations as the most ferocious felines on the planet.
With their innate hunting skills, massive size, impressive strength, and razor-sharp teeth and claws, it’s pretty clear why they’re worthy of our fear. But don’t you dare tell this little guy that…
See, as notorious as big cats may be in the animal kingdom, even they are no match for the deadliest cat of them all—the black-footed cat. Given its fearsome reputation, there’s just one surprising thing about this feline you should know…
You might have heard the saying “big things come in small packages,” but it’s never been truer than when it comes to the black-footed cat, Africa’s smallest feline. Its tiny size hasn’t affected its deadliness, however.
Native to the incredibly arid southwestern portion of Africa, the black-footed cat only ever grows to be around 17 inches in length. But that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the fiercest predators on the entire planet.
While the black-footed cat looks like any other domestic house cat, its upbringing is much different. For example, the habitat it calls home is so dangerous to the average mammal that these cats are forced to grow up much more quickly.
Not only are they typically able to run at just two weeks old and consume solid food at one month, but they’re also completely weaned by the time they reach two months old. Talk about rapid growth!
Raised in dens they dig themselves, their mothers will often move them around quite frequently by the time they’re at least a week old. By four or five months, most kittens are completely independent.
Although not a whole lot is known about the species, one thing is certain: their independence carries on throughout their lives. Researchers have noted that the only time they spend around other cats is when it’s time to breed.
Even though they’re adorable, these cats would make very poor pets. In addition to being listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Animals (IUCA), they’re known to be incredibly unsociable cats.
They are pretty crafty, however. Should they stray too far from their dens, they have no qualms about taking up space in the burrows of aardvarks, porcupines, and springhares. In fact, they’ll even completely renovate it to their liking!
They mostly snack on birds, arachnids, insects, reptiles, and other small mammals. In order to look for food, adult cats will often walk up to 20 miles in a single night in search of their next delicious meal. So what makes these little guys so scary?
It’s the black-footed cat’s unique hunting skills that make them the deadliest cats on the planet. With an astounding 60 percent success rate when hunting, they easily beat out any other wild cats by a large margin. That’s not all, either.
Typically, they utilize the stalk-and-pounce method to snare their prey. But if that doesn’t work for them, they’ll often wait outside of rodent holes and dens and wait for their dinner to emerge. The long-game is sometimes the best method.
Black-footed cats also have an uncanny amount of endurance due to their ability to retain moisture. They’ll drink water when it’s available, but for the most part, they rely on the water from their prey to get them through the dry desert climate.
Researchers have noted that, while waiting outside of rodent burrows, black-footed cats will often close their eyes for long periods of time. They’re not sleeping! Instead, they’re relying on their excellent hearing to alert them when food is headed their way.
It takes a lot of energy to be so deadly. In fact, the black-footed cat requires much more energy than other cats their size, because their hunts are often strenuous and long. Luckily, they’re so skillful that they will often snag as many as 14 animals in the same night!
Black-footed cats are also capable of taking down mammals larger than they are. Their hunting skills are so notorious that one legend among the San people in southern Africa states that a black-footed cat once killed a giraffe by “piercing its jugular.”
Unlike most big cats, the black-footed cat doesn’t particularly enjoy climbing! Because of their short tails and stocky bodies, they’re just not suited for it. Instead, they stick close to the ground.
So while these cats might not look like they’d be all that deadly—they’re really quite cute when you look at them—the truth is hard to ignore. One thing’s for sure: we want to learn more about them!