Many farm animals in Australia, especially sheep in the southern part of the country have been impacted by diseases spread by cats and the related economic loss reaches 12 million Australian dollars (about $8.92 million) each year, a new study showed.
Released on Monday, the national study conducted by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the Australian Government's National Environmental Science Program examined how toxoplasmosis, sarcocystosis and cat roundworm, three diseases that depend on cats to reproduce and spread, made an impact on Australian agriculture sector.
"We found that toxoplasmosis infections cause the loss of over 62,000 unborn lambs each year in Australia, costing the industry around 10 million Australian dollars (about $7.43 million) each year," Lead author, Professor Sarah Legge from the Australian National University and the University of Queensland said.
"Sarcocystosis costs the meat industry around 2 million Australian dollars (about $1.49 million) per year. It causes cysts in meat which require trimming and can even result in whole carcasses or shipments being rejected."
Infected cats release millions of tiny parasitic "oocyst" eggs into the environment with their faeces. They can persist in soil, pasture and water for many months, where they can be ingested by livestock such as sheep, goats and cows, and by poultry.
Co-author Dr. Patrick Taggart from the University of Adelaide said reducing cat's number around the farm would not just benefit wildlife but also sheep producers, especially those living in cooler and wetter regions where those parasites can survive longer in the environment.
"Cats have a reputation for keeping some agricultural pests, such as rodents and rabbits, in check, but there is no evidence that they are effective at this task," Taggart said.
"We can reduce the cost of cat-dependent diseases on agriculture by lowering numbers of feral and pet cats around farms."
Another way to reduce the livestock infection rate is to apply agricultural lime to pastures, which can make the Sarcocystis and toxoplasmosis oocyst less likely to survive in the environment, according to Taggart.