Proof of concept: catnip-filled toxoplasma gondii cat toy

Toxoplasma gondii tachy, from Wikipedia

Toxoplasma gondii tachy, via Wikipedia

There is no shortage of cat toys that are in questionable taste, but the one I was looking for - a soft, catnip-filled replica of the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis - was nowhere to be found. If you haven't heard, this parasite, toxoplasma gondii, invades the brains of mice and makes them attracted to rather than afraid of cats. It also might make humans crazy, but this blog post notwithstanding, the jury's still out on that. You can buy catnip-filled cat toys of seemingly every description, and you can even buy plush parasites, viruses, and bacteria, but the intersection... null.

So I decided to make one. What does toxoplasma gondii look like? Well, it looks like a single-celled organism, more or less paramecium-shaped and usually purple from the slide stain. Since the actual critters are just a few microns long, nobody, least of all your cat, is going to notice if the model is not so accurate. I chose purple felt from the craft store and some yellow embroidery floss for thread and interest.

Catnip-filled felt toxoplasma gondii

Catnip-filled felt toxoplasma gondii

You can download the sewing pattern here. No, you can't, there is no pattern, and I can barely sew. I just cut out a couple of pointy-ended ellipses, dressed one up with a button and some stitching representing organelles, and sewed them together, stuffing a couple of old socks and a few spoonfuls of locally-grown catnip (from Blue Skys Farm in Cranston RI) inside as I went along.

If you're sewing anything, your cat is probably going to want to help.  If you're sewing something full of catnip, your cat is definitely going to want to help. Be sure to have enough extra catnip to occupy the cat while you work or it will not go well for anybody.

Initial field test of catnip toxomplasmosis toy

Initial field test of catnip toxomplasmosis toy

While there are clearly flaws in this initial prototype (not least the fact that it looks like a long-forgotten banana), the first test run went quite well from the cat's point of view, and by the time I retrieved the toy for a photo (it wasn't easy, let me tell you), it had gotten a good mauling and was a bit soggy, but at least my stitching had not come undone.

Next steps:

  1. Find a more suitable fabric
  2. Learn to sew
  3. Become an Etsy millionaire

You can direct distribution inquiries to my business manager, pictured at right.

Note for the humorless: toxoplasmosis doesn't do much to most of us, but can be quite dangerous to the immunocompromised and pregnant women and their unborn children, so such people should stay away from cat poop and contaminated meat. Read more from the CDC.

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