Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by toxoplasma gondii, which is a single-celled parasite. This condition is often asymptomatic in cats and dogs, just like it is in people. But while the disease is usually not dangerous for people with healthy immune systems, it can easily turn deadly in patients who are pregnant or immunocompromised.
The Toxoplasma Gondii Parasite Life Cycle
Cats are the only definitive hosts for Toxoplasma gondii - while dogs and humans are intermediate hosts. Essentially, the parasite thrives within cats but will hitch a ride in canines or humans until they find another suitable definitive host. An infected feline will pass feces with eggs inside it - the parasite can spread to intermediate hosts if they consume the infected feces. If the feces is consumed by a member of the feline family they will become infected and restart the lifecycle.
How Toxoplasma Gondii Spreads
Once a cat has shed the oocysts (eggs), and they have reached the infectious stage, they can be picked up in a number of ways;
- From the feline feces directly- If there are litter boxes in your house, remember to clean them out daily! It takes at least 24 hours for oocysts to become infectious. Remove the possibility right away and wash your hands after.
- Ingesting contaminated meat – Lamb, pork, and venison are especially likely to be infected with T. gondii. Always cook each meat to the recommended internal temperature.
- Cover sandboxes – Cats will use sandboxes as an outdoor litter box. If you have a sandbox on your property, be sure to cover it.
- Gardens/vegetables – Cats can release oocysts (eggs) in the garden, that can contaminate the soil of your fresh veggies. We highly recommend washing your veggies before eating them and peel them when possible. This isn't a likely way to contract Toxoplasmosis, but it is a possibility, so caution is advised.
- Drinking contaminated water – Today, contaminated water isn't as common in the United States. But, it's important to be aware of any emergency water advisory warnings in your area. If Toxoplasma gondii has contaminated the water, you don't want to consume unfiltered and unboiled tap water.
Most pets won't develop any symptoms, but animals that have compromised immune systems could be at risk. Symptoms of a pet experiencing a dangerous case of Toxoplasmosis include eye discharge, diarrhea, and the signs of respiratory, liver, and neurological disease.
How Toxoplasmosis Is Treated
Toxoplasmosis can be difficult to diagnose. While blood tests can be conducted for cats, the parasite can only be detected if your feline friend has been infected fairly recently. A positive test can't confirm if the parasite is still present, or if it is currently active. If Toxoplasmosis is diagnosed it is important for your cat to start treatment on antibiotics immediately.