Should You Keep Your Cat Indoors? Yes, Say Scientists

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Pet owners should consider keeping cats indoors to help prevent their furry companions from picking up and spreading harmful bugs, scientists have said in a study.

Domesticated cats who roam outdoors were almost three times more likely to be infected by parasites when compared with cats who only lived indoors.

Scientists also found a link between the latitude of where a cat lived and its risk of catching germs.

"Absolute latitude trended towards significance such that each degree increase in absolute latitude increased infection likelihood by 4 percent," wrote the authors of the study published in the journal Biology Letters.

Kayleigh Chalkowski, lead author of the study and a researcher at the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn University in Alabama told AFP: "You think of tropical regions as just having more wildlife, more parasites. But it turned out that latitude had the opposite effect."

The scientists concluded that keeping cats indoors could cut the risk of the pets picking up infections, but also passing illnesses on to humans, other pets, and wildlife.

The team carried out a meta-analysis on existing data on 19 different germs which can make cats sick, AFP reported. The studies detailed how frequently diseases were found indoors and outdoors in more than 12 countries, including Spain, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, Pakistan, Brazil, and the Netherlands.

Diseases studied included Toxoplasma gondii, a single-cell parasite which can cause health problems in pregnant women, and Toxocara cati, or feline roundworm.

Chalkowski told AFP: "Basically, no matter where you are in the world, keeping your cat indoors is a great way to keep them healthy from infectious diseases.

Cats are a useful animal to study when it comes to understanding how bugs infect animals, as they are more likely to be kept inside exclusively or allowed some outdoor access, as opposed to animals like dogs.

To prevent the spread of disease from pets, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises pet owners to wash their hands after touching, playing with, or feeding pets, as well as after handling their toys and equipment like cages or food and water dishes.

Keeping pet supplies out of the kitchen and disinfecting their belongings outside the home is also advised, according to the agency. Removing faeces correctly is important, to prevent the spread of roundworms and hookworms.

"Running water and soap are best for hand washing, but you can use hand sanitizer until running water and soap are available. Adults should always assist young children with hand washing," the CDC said.