Here’s Why You Should Never Let Your House Cat in Your Vegetable Garden

House cats make intelligent, lovable pets. But as with all animals, cats are carriers of plenty of bacteria. And although you might love letting your favorite pet sniff around your garden, experts wholly advise against it. The truth is, your cat is hiding something very harmful — and it may hurt you if it gets into your vegetable garden.

Cat and vase of fresh catnip

Keep your cat away from your veggies. | Okssi68/iStock/Getty Images

Cats carry a type of bacteria known as toxoplasma gondii

Cats are known for carrying some potentially harmful bacteria. (You never want your cat to bite you.) And toxoplasma gondii is one that can easily be spread from a cat to its owner. Toxoplasma gondii is responsible for a disease known as toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis can be passed from animals to humans in several ways: Through eating contaminated, undercooked meat, through eating food with utensils that were in contact with the raw, contaminated meat, and through accidentally ingesting the parasite from cat feces.

We know what you’re thinking — who would ingest cat feces?

It’s important not to take that too literally. While it’s true very few people (hopefully none) would ever willingly ingest cat feces, the bacteria are extremely small and can be spread onto surfaces that you may then ingest. For example, when you clean your cat’s litter box, you might inadvertently get some of the dirty cat litter on your hands. If you don’t wash your hands after cleaning and then pick up a tasty sandwich, you might spread the traces of cat feces onto the sandwich. It then gets consumed, and boom — you’ve ingested cat feces.

Vegetable gardens are especially dangerous because you can’t always tell when your cat has paid them a visit

In most cases, feces is a fertilizer that helps fortify the soil, and it’s often not much to worry about. But if you have a garden full of fresh veggies, and your cat uses the bathroom in the garden, that toxoplasma bacteria can then end up in the soil of your veggie garden. If the plants take from the soil, they can then have traces of the bacteria on them. And if you pick some fresh veggies from the garden and don’t properly wash them, you’re exposing yourself to the bacteria.

Since many cats run around outside without their owners keeping a close eye on them, it’s not always easy to tell when the cat has been in your garden. Plus, if your veggie garden is large, you might not notice any feces. And even after it’s composted, the cat feces is still dangerous.

What’s the big deal about toxoplasma gondii?

Toxoplasma gondii causes an infection known as toxoplasmosis. In most people with strong immune systems, toxoplasmosis is fairly harmless. One recent study actually found that those infected with toxoplasmosis may have less overall fear, which can be a benefit. But in those who are pregnant or have a weak immune system, the disease can wreak havoc. A pregnant woman might not show any signs, but her unborn baby can be born with serious nervous system disorders as well as diseases that affect the eyes. Muscle pain, fatigue, or fever are more common symptoms in those with weak immune systems, and if you’re unable to fight infections well, the disease can be serious. If you think you may have been exposed to the toxoplasma bacteria, contact your doctor immediately.

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