By JeanneBennett

Spirit staff Pet Advocate

Though a lot of cat litter products are advertised as “flushable,” researchers are saying that flushing cat litter might not actually be a “green” way of disposing of cat feces.  The problem is not in the litter itself, but in a parasite called “Toxoplasma gondii,” the eggs of which can be found in the feces of cats and other members of the cat family.

This parasite mostly affects wildlife, and traces of the disease have been found in dolphins and a humpback whale. The disease can live for years in soil (which makes burying cat feces also problematic), and it often survives sewage treatment processes and can be carried long distances in water to oceans and waterways where marine life come into contact with it.

This parasite could also potentially be harmful to humans by causing brain defects in people with compromised immune systems or babies whose mothers were exposed to the parasite while pregnant.

Since Toxoplasma gondii can live in soil for years, it has the potential to inflict harm to an unsuspecting gardener long after the soil was first contaminated.

Do not flush feces if your household is on a septic system because the waste may clog up your septic tank and drain field which can result in a costly repair. With cat waste, make sure only feces (not cat litter) go down the toilet because the clays in litter can clog up the plumbing.

However, the main issue is its noticeable effect on wildlife, particularly in California, where so much treated sewage water flows into the ocean. Toxoplasma gondii has been linked to the deaths of Hawaiian monk seals and California sea otters, so California lawmakers have tried to address this problem by requiring companies to put warnings against flushing on kitty litter products.

However, there is no way to really prohibit people from flushing the liter or putting it in storm drains and gutters, so the spread of the parasite continues to be problematic, and cat litter producers have yet to create a litter that can inactivate the parasite eggs.

For those who are trying to be green with cat litter, here are few suggestions for how to properly handle your cat’s waste:

DON’T flush the litter—particularly if you live near water and are on a city sewer system.

DON’T bury the poop, as the parasite eggs can survive in soil for a long time and potentially contaminate groundwater.

DON’T compost the litter, as it will not get hot enough to kill the parasite eggs.

DON’T assume that it is not a problem with your indoor cat.  While indoor cats are less likely to carry Toxoplasma gondii, the chances are not zero.

DO put the cat litter in a biodegradable bag and dispose of it the same way that you dispose of all of your other trash and garbage.

Though adding to landfills is not an ideal solution, researchers have not yet come up with a safer way of dealing with the feces, and the safety of both humans and wildlife is an immediate concern.

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