Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can be found in garden soil and raw meat. Cats can get toxoplasma infection by killing and eating infected prey. The disease can also be passed on from cats to humans.
How Do Cats Get Toxoplasmosis?
Cats most often become carriers of toxoplasmosis by killing and eating wild animals who have been infected-a good reason not to let your cat outside to hunt! A cat may also contract the disease should he come into contact with an infected cat’s feces. Once a cat is infected, the parasite multiplies in his intestines until immature eggs called oocysts are shed in his feces. Infected cats can shed oocysts for up to two weeks after initial infection.
What Are the Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis in Cats?
Most cats become immune to the disease through exposure to the parasite. However, those who aren’t already immune may have mild diarrhea and a loss of appetite; the disease can also affect a feline’s lungs, liver and nervous system. Kittens exposed to the parasite while still in the womb are most vulnerable-and are more likely than adult cats to show symptoms.
What Should I Do If My Cat Has Toxoplasmosis?
If you suspect your cat is carrying the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, it’s time to get him tested by your veterinarian. If he tests positive, it means he has been exposed to the disease but is unlikely to be shedding oocysts after an initial two-week period. If he tests negative, it means he has not been exposed and could still become infected and shed oocysts-but again only for two weeks.
Cats who are capable of shedding eggs should be isolated from children and other pets, pregnant moms and any immunocompromised people in the household. Also, be sure to clean his litter box and bedding twice each day while wearing disposable gloves.
Is There a Cure for Toxoplasmosis?
Antibiotics are available that can clear up most of the symptoms of toxoplasmosis. Although they do not kill the parasite, they can provide an effective treatment.
How Can People Catch Toxoplasmosis?
Although people can be infected through contact with cat feces, the far more common way for someone to have contact with the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis is through unhygienic handling of raw or undercooked meat, drinking contaminated water and exposure to garden soil or sandboxes where infected cats may have defecated. People do not get the disease through direct contact with the cat himself.
Can Humans Get Toxoplasmosis from Cats?
Fortunately, most people have been exposed to or infected by Toxoplasma and already have immunity to the disease. People with weakened immune systems run the greatest risk of contracting toxoplasmosis. If a woman is infected while pregnant, the growing fetus can also become infected. This can result in cysts in the fetus’ brain, and can lead to developmental abnormalities, miscarriage or stillbirth. People with compromised immune systems are susceptible to a number of infections and should take the proper hygienic precautions to protect themselves against exposure to the disease.
What Are the Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis in Humans?
People who are affected by toxoplasmosis may have fever, shortness of breath and neurological problems, such as seizures and lack of coordination. Those in relatively good health will usually show no signs or simply have mild, flu-like symptoms.
How Can Toxoplasmosis Be Prevented?
If you have reason to be concerned (if your cat hunts, for example), cat parents, pregnant moms and immunocompromised individuals can take some simple precautions against toxoplasmosis:
- Have all cats in your household tested by your veterinarian for the parasite and make certain the test results are explained to you.
- Keep your cat(s) indoors.
- Do not feed your cat raw meat.
- Do not eat undercooked meat yourself.
- Do not allow your cat to hunt and eat wild mice, birds, etc.
- Use disposable rubber gloves when cleaning the litter box.
- Wear gloves and protective clothing when gardening.
- Cover your child’s sandbox when not in use; this will prevent possibly infected cats from defecating in it.
- Take proper hygienic precautions when handling raw meat.
- Pregnant moms and immunocompromised people with cats who cannot get someone else clean the litter box for them should wear gloves, clean the litter box promptly twice a day before the oocysts can become infective and wash their hands when finished.
It is not necessary to relinquish a cat if he has toxoplasmosis. By taking the recommended steps above to practice good hygiene, both cat and humans can remain safe and healthy.