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Municipal sewage treatment plants traditionally treat sewage to kill harmful bacteria, remove the waste solids, and pump the resultant "safe" effluent directly into a freshwater source that eventually drains into ocean bays. Unfortunately present means of sewage treatment do not kill the T. Gondii parasite, which is carried in cat feces, among other sources. Cat owners using flushable litters, may be unwittingly contributing to the ultimate deaths of sea otters.

These cat litters are excellent for a number of other reasons, but please don't flush them. Read page 2 of the article to see other things you can do do help preserve the sea otter population.

The picture at left is of river otters, a cousin to the sea otters. Photo © Franny Syufy

Comments

August 17, 2006 at 3:20 am
(1) E says:

Franny, thank you SO much for posting this! I had, in the past, flushed litter.

August 17, 2006 at 1:39 pm
(2) Louann says:

Hi Franny, do you have any thoughts on this: http://www.classicalvalues.com/archives/003355.html

I would hate to see cats getting the blame for this when there are other sources of infection that seem more plausible.

August 17, 2006 at 2:53 pm
(3) Connie says:

Thanks for sharing this information. As an employee of a wastewater treatment plant, let me tell you that we all need to think carefully about what we flush or put in our septic tanks!

August 17, 2006 at 4:31 pm
(4) Jennifer says:

Glad to hear about this! Someone posted it on our pet messag board. Louann-the problem with your comment is that sea otters as far as I have researched do not eat gulls. While it is possible that there are other causes of this problem-why make it worse?

August 17, 2006 at 7:19 pm
(5) Suz says:

I appreciate your column, but find frequently missing is the factual or scientific links that you base your comments upon. So it would be very helpful to back up what you are saying with links to information so that we know where you are getting your facts. Thanks you.

August 19, 2006 at 8:31 pm
(6) Seth says:

Regardless of whether or not it ultimately harms sea otters, it may not be a good idea to flush “flushable” litter. After do so for a couple of years so much buildup developed on our pipes, that the toilet completely stopped up. It took the plumbers a long time to remove the offending matter. I now use a Litter Locker. The cartridges are expensive, but we find that the convenience is worth it!

August 19, 2006 at 8:59 pm
(7) cats says:

Suze:

Did you READ my article, or are you just commenting on the short blog entry about it? My article gives plenty of links to my resources, and you’ll find other links to resources in the “Elsewhere on the Net” sidebar.

I really don’t make these things up. :)

December 19, 2006 at 8:15 pm
(8) ljl says:

I read your whole article, but it doesn’t pass the smell test. I did some simple searching on T. Gondii.

You are essentially advocating increasing the amount of non-biodegradable matter in our solid waste dumps on a possibility, unproven, that an internal parasite *that humans can carry as well* (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasma_gondii) is damaging marine life. In fact, about 1/3 of humans above the age of 12 have it.

If there is a problem from T. Gondii, it’s from humans as well, and more than csts. The solution is better sewage treatment, but that still won’t help waste dumped in the wild by all mammals infected (feral cats, dogs, etc).

So it sounds like you are jumping to conclusions based on inadequate data, and advising a “solution” that is little more than a panacea.

Thanks, I’ll keep flushing my litter.

December 19, 2006 at 11:29 pm
(9) Wedge says:

for the love of god, ljl, STOP is fallacious. if you need more science, check pubmed or google scholar. additionally, you might also want to search “t. gondii” + “schizophrenia”.

December 20, 2006 at 12:03 am
(10) Wedge says:

ok… that *should’ve* said “STOP FLUSHING YOUR KITTY LITTER DOWN THE TOILET” and “your reasoning is fallacious…”

January 31, 2007 at 7:12 pm
(11) robby says:

OK, ljl, where exactly do you think that “non-biodegradable matter” ends up exactly when you flush it down the toilet?

Answer: it ends up at the wastewater treatment plant, where it builds up as a sludge that the treatment plant has to scrape out, dry out, and dispose of at (you guessed it) a landfill. It’s a lot cheaper and more efficient for you to simply throw trash in the trash can yourself for proper disposal, instead of flushing it down the toilet.

Not to mention the fact that kitty litter (even the so-called “flushable” types) have a very good chance of blocking the sewer lines and causing problems at the pump stations and wastewater treatment plants.

My company works on guidelines for the public for municipalities, and the first thing we always emphasize is: “Your toilet is NOT a trash can.”

Here’s one set of guidelines for proper disposal of various household wastes:
http://dnr.metrokc.gov/WTD/community/oldstuff.htm

September 8, 2007 at 12:47 pm
(12) Barry says:

Robby, the point is that there is no such thing as a “non-biodegradable” flushable cat litter. If people do however stop flushing their cat litter most will not spend the money for biodegradable litter and will continue to add to our stock pile of trash while humans (I’ve seen statistics as high as half the human population has it) and wild mammals will still be spreading it and you will now have effectively added to the world problem rather than having fixed anything. Especially since you are encouraging people not to compost, yeah let’s stop recycling and just continue making huge piles of trash to live around. World ecosystems go far beyond otters, why not try making a real difference at sewage treatment plants and continue recycling rather than being blind sighted by the bump in the road while failing to see the brick wall in front of you.

October 1, 2007 at 1:24 am
(13) Jen says:

Ummm…. Do most people use flushable litter as a shortcut to the trash can? I mean, do most people use it so that they don’t have to carry it out of their house to the outside? Personally, I’d never heard of flushable litter until I decided to toilet train my two cats. And I only had to use it for three weeks. Then it was all done and I never used litter again. Since they were only 4 months old when they started training, I think that’s a pretty fair trade-off: either 13 years of putting litter in the trash, or 4 months of litter in the trash and 3 weeks of flushable litter. …But, of course the next person is going to tell me that ANY cat waste in the toilet is bad. My thought is that there’s no way to truly win 100% if you decide to have a pet cat. But this is my way of reaching a happy medium.

July 18, 2008 at 1:07 pm
(14) tbill says:

Otters are just water-dwelling weasels. Save the fish! Go ahead and flush!!!

November 26, 2009 at 10:17 pm
(15) Lisa Stimmer says:

Its important when learning about the disease Toxoplasma gondii, to understand how cats contract it and how they can pass it on. Cats get toxoplasmosis when they eat small animals and birds that have Toxoplasma gondii parasites encysted in their tissues. Indoor cats are not often in contact with such small animals and birds, the carriers of this disease. Additionally cats only pass T. gondii in their feces for a few weeks (on average 2-3 weeks over their entire lifetime) after becoming infected with the disease. The issues with Toxoplasma gondii infecting sea otters has a stronger connection with the overwhelming feral cat population of California, Washington & Oregon
As recommended by the EPA – “The most effective way for pet owners to limit their pet’s contribution to source water
contamination is to simply clean up and dispose of pet waste. As long as the droppings are not mixed with other materials, pet waste should be flushed down the toilet. >> http://www.epa.gov/safewater/sourcewater/pubs/fs_swpp_petwaste.pdf
I’ve toilet trained my indoor cats, and never have to worry about litter disposal ever again. It really works!

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