Be wary of cat poop in the veggie garden
November 9, 2006
I recently had a question about a cat using a dormant vegetable garden for a litter box and the associated health risks. The cat owner also wanted to know how he could clean any contaminants out of the soil.
Cat excrement does pose potential health problems for humans, particularly toxoplasmosis for pregnant women. According to David S. Thain, assistant professor and Extension veterinarian with University of Nevada, contaminants of toxoplasmosis can stay active in the soil for more than a year. He suggests tilling the soil now and tightly covering it with plastic to let it bake through winter and spring. In the spring, cover garden beds with 1-inch chicken wire and consider using plastic between plants and rows of vegetables.
Toxoplasmosis can be a serious health risk for pregnant women, their babies, and people with compromised immune systems. Infected newborns may not immediately show symptoms, but may develop them later in life. Some affected newborns may have serious eye or brain damage. Babies can sometime become infected, when a mother was exposed just prior to getting pregnant.
So, if you are planning to become pregnant, a blood sample can find out if you have been exposed. Mild cases cause flu-like symptoms, with swollen glands and muscle aches, for a month or more according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What can gardeners do to reduce their risk of exposure? Wear gloves when working with soil and keep your hands away from your mouth. Wash your hands with soap and water, especially before you eat or prepare food. Carefully wash all vegetables and fruits before eating them. Peel and wash all root crops. Cooking them will kill the disease organisms.
Keep your cat healthy and indoors, and feed it only dry or canned food. Don’t let it eat prey or give it raw or undercooked meat.
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If you are thinking about becoming pregnant or are pregnant, stay away from the cat box. Have someone else clean it daily. If this isn’t possible, wear gloves and a face mask, clean the box daily, and wash your gloves and hands with soap when you’re done.
Cat and dog feces can also contain various worms and other contaminating organisms, which gardeners can ingest via dirty hands. Kids play in the dirt and then put their dirty hands in their mouths. Treat dogs and cats for roundworms. Regularly clean feces out of the yard, put it in a plastic bag, and throw it in the trash.
Contact me, 887-2252 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office for more gardening information. Check out many useful horticulture publications at http://www.unce.unr.edu. “Ask a Master Gardener” by e-mailing email@example.com.
• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City / Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.