Similar to giardia, Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite. All animals that have warm bodies can become infected with Toxoplasma gondii. In this post, our Glendale vets share everything pet owners should know about Toxoplasma gondii.
What is Toxoplasmosis?
In many cats and dogs, Toxoplasmosis can be asymptomatic, just as it is in humans. Although, while the disease isn't usually dangerous for people that have healthy immune systems, it can easily become deadly in patients that are pregnant or have a compromised immune system.
The Toxoplasma Gondii Parasite Life Cycle
Felines 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 their canine or human roommates to try and find another suitable definitive host. An infected feline will pass feces with eggs inside it - consumption of these feces spreads the parasite to intermediate hosts, if they are consumed by a member of the feline family, they can become infected and restart the lifecycle.
How Toxoplasma Gondii Is Contracted
After a cat sheds the oocysts (eggs), and they have entered the infectious stage, they can be picked up in various ways;
- Drinking contaminated water – while contaminated water is now uncommon in the United States, 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.
- From the feline feces directly- If there are litter boxes in your house, remember to clean them out daily! Fresh oocysts are not infectious. They will need at least 24 hours to become infectious. Remove the possibility right away and WASH YOUR HANDS.
- Cover sandboxes – Cats will use sandboxes as an outdoor litter box. If you have a sandbox on your property, be sure to cover it.
- Ingesting contaminated meat – Lamb, pork, and venison are especially likely to be infected with T. gondii. Always make sure to cook your food to the recommended internal temperature for each type of meat.
- Gardens/vegetables – Cats can release oocysts (eggs) in the garden, which then will contaminate the soil of your fresh veggies. It is always best practice to wash your veggies before eating them and peel them whenever you can. This is not a likely way to contract Toxoplasmosis, but it is ultimately possible so caution is never inadvisable.
Signs & Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis
Most pets wont develop symptoms, but pets that have compromised immune systems can be in serious danger. Symptoms of a pet experiencing a dangerous case of Toxoplasmosis include eye discharge, diarrhea, and signs of respiratory, liver, and neurological disease.
It's very difficult to diagnose this condition. Blood tests can be performed for cats, but they can only detect the parasite if it has been in your feline friend relatively recently. A positive test does not verify if the parasite is still currently present, or if it is currently active. If Toxoplasmosis is diagnosed it is important for your cat to start antibiotic treatment immediately.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.