The Parasite Toxoplasma: What Makes People Love Cats

According to sociological surveys, more than 60% of Russians have pets. And most of them prefer cats. Where does this love come from? It’s simple: cats make us love ourselves on a biological level. And they help them in this parasites.

An insidious parasite

Toxoplasma gondii is a single-celled parasite. In order to go through its entire life cycle, it, like other parasites, needs to change several hosts. The latter, in turn, can be primary and intermediate hosts. In the body of the intermediate host, parasites are usually in their larval stage, and their maximum ability is asexual reproduction. They become sexually active only after entering the body of the main host. This is the main host, namely the cat.
In an effort to continue their life cycle, the parasites, being in the body of the main host, again begin to look for an intermediate host. That is when they make a cat so attractive to humans. Parasites try to lure their new “home” – the human body – as close as possible in order to penetrate it unhindered.

Zombie host

Many parasites are capable of influencing the behavior of their host. For example, the cordyceps lopsided fungus literally makes an ant freeze in suspension, hooked on something, while the fungus quietly eats its body.

So toxoplasma doing the same thing is not the exception to the rule at all, but rather a pattern. Scientists at Stanford University, after years of observation, found that rats infected with toxoplasma begin to behave completely inappropriately. They do not hide at the sight of a cat, but rather, openly come out to meet her, literally urging to grab them. And the smell of cat urine, which causes only fear in healthy rodents, begins to attract them no worse than any aphrodisiac. Smelling this “fragrance”, they feel an irresistible sexual attraction. In addition, infected rats have a level of the pleasure hormone, dopamine, that simply goes off the scale.

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According to the researchers, the same thing happens to cats. Toxoplasma, which parasitizes in the body of an animal, seeks to attract a new host – a human. That is why he feels pleasure in communicating with his four-legged friend.

Symptoms of toxoplasmosis

To get infected with toxoplasmosis a person can come in contact with a sick animal or the products of his vital activity, in particular excrement. Source of the infection is also poorly cooked or roasted meat, most often pork.

The disease is mostly asymptomatic. However, increased synthesis of dopamine leads to mental changes that resemble the effects of taking drugs. American scientist Kevin Lafferty established a connection between toxoplasmosis and neuroticism, i.e., severe mood swings, anxiety, low self-esteem and feelings of guilt. Researchers have also proven empirically that the parasite can cause exacerbations in chaotic patients.