Dear Joan: Recently, a reader wrote to suggest chicken manure will keep cats from using her garden for a litter box. Is there a deadly danger to cats in chicken manure?
My gramma raised chickens out in the country. She bemoaned that locals dumped unwanted cats as they turned the corner around her orchard. Why? Because, she said, chicken manure carries a pathogen that is deadly to cats. She said the pathogen remains viable in the soil for years afterward.
Gramma fed every stray cat that came her way, but those poor little kitties only lived a few months before getting sick and dying. Even after she stopped raising chickens and her coop hadn't seen a chicken in 10 years, the cats still got sick and died. Gramma blamed the chicken manure.
I can't prove it, but I believe Gramma.
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Dear J.: I would never contradict anyone's gramma, but I'm not sure the manure someone sprinkles on their garden beds is automatically harmful.
All bird droppings, including those of chickens, can carry a variety of fungus and bacteria that can sicken and even kill felines under certain circumstances. That would require two things however. One, that the cat ingest or inhale the harmful bacteria or fungus, and two, that the chickens were harboring them, and not all chickens do. Cats probably are at greater risk from pigeon droppings.
That's not to say there isn't a threat, but I checked with people I know who have chickens and cats, and they've never had a problem. However, it is reasonable to have concerns about chicken manure. A kitten's exposure to bacteria and fungi could prove fatal, as their immune systems aren't as strong as those of an adult cat. And if people were dumping them at your gramma's property, then the kittens probably hadn't received the best care up to then.
Something was certainly killing the stray cats around your grandmother's coop, but I'm not sure what it was.