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Mice lose cat fear for good after infection

Parasite's ill effects on rodents persist long after disease clears

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1:02pm, September 18, 2013

NO FEAR OF FELINES  Mice permanently lose their fear of felines following infection with a parasite that cats carry. The brazen  behavior carries on long after the infection clears. 

Mice may permanently shed a fear of felines when infected with a parasite. The effects linger long after the parasites disappear, a study shows.

The protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii can infect most mammals, including humans (SN: 1/26/13, p. 24). But the parasite can reproduce only in the feline gut, so cats need to eat animals infected with T. gondii to keep the parasite generations going.

Perhaps increasing the likelihood that it will wind up in the belly of a cat, the parasite makes infected rodents lose their innate aversion to cat urine, researchers discovered in 2000. The parasite strain was so potent that it killed the mice quickly, so researchers had no way of knowing whether the rodents’ loss of cat aversion could persist.

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