Sea otter deaths linked to domestic cats

Sea otters in California are dying from a parasite they’re picking up from domestic cats. ©dante0864

Sea otters in California are dying from a parasite they’re picking up from cats on the loose. Researchers recently found the otters are picking up the parasite Toxoplasma gondii from feral cats or house cats roaming outside. The parasite colonizes in cats but spreads to other species through feces. Analyzing DNA from 135 sea otters with Toxoplasma infections that died between 1998 and 2015, researchers linked sea otter infections to parasites gathered from feral cats, as well as a bobcat (Lynx rufus) in the region. “This is the ultimate proof that strains that are killing sea otters are coming from domestic cats,” lead author Karen Shapiro, a veterinarian and pathologist at the University of California, Davis, told the New York Times. Toxoplasma infections contribute to the deaths of 8 percent of otters that are found dead, the Times reports, and is the primary cause of death in 3 percent.

Read more from the New York Times here.