Learn About Toxoplasmosis to Protect Yourself and Your Pet
Sat, April 10, 2021

Learn About Toxoplasmosis to Protect Yourself and Your Pet


Toxoplasmosis is a diseased caused by Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), a microscopic single-cell organism, said Ernest Ward, DVM, of VCA, an operator of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada. T. gondii is related to coccidia and warm-blooded animals can be infected with the organism. It is a well-adapted parasite and in rare cases, T. gondii causes significant disease to the host. Toxoplasmosis infection in humans can lead to severe illness in babies infected before birth or immunocompromised individuals.


Toxoplasmosis Risk Factors and Respondents’ Knowledge of the Disease

Edwin Ogendi and colleagues of journal portal Research Gate found that a total of 173 households owned cats (44.9%). 91.3% of farmers in Kenya fed their cats with leftovers while 9.1% fed their cats with raw offal. Only one farmer (0.6%) said that the cat was not given any food and was assumed that the animal lived off rodents. 9.2% of households provided housing for the cats while others were free to roam. Only 2.9% of households provided litter boxes for their cats to only 2.8% of households provided litter boxes for their cats. Alarmingly, none of the owners with litter boxes used gloves when cleaning them. All cat owners disposed of cat litter on the farm. 38.2% said they were not aware of the site where the felines defecated.

74.3% said they use tap water as their main source of water while 15.1% obtained water from rivers or streams. 5.5% obtained water from wells and 5.2% used water from boreholes. The authors concluded that exposure to cat poop or owning cat/s and/or having cats in the immediate surroundings was associated with toxoplasma infection. Toxoplasma was also associated with handling litterboxes containing cat waste. In another study by Jacek Smereka and colleagues of BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, a journal portal that contains articles on pregnancy and childbirth, 94.4% of pregnant women in Poland were aware of the existence of toxoplasmosis. The most common sources of information included medical doctors (76.1%), the internet (45.6%), television (41.3%), books (12%), and mother, family, or friends (1.9%).

77.4% of pregnant women said toxoplasmosis was a zoonotic disease and 41.7% said it was a parasitic disease. 8.6% noted that toxoplasmosis was transmitted through poor hand hygiene. 4% asserted that toxoplasmosis was a childhood illness whereas 0.4% said it was a congenital disease. When asked about how T.gondii was transmitted, 84.5% said it was transmitted via a domestic cat while 46.7% cited consuming raw or undercooked meat. Only 0.6% of pregnant women answered that it was spread through insect bites. 5.2% did not know about it.

84.3% did not know the symptoms of toxoplasmosis and 12% said they did not have any symptoms of the disease. The respondents reported the following symptoms: enlarged lymph nodes (3.4%), diarrhea (1.3%), and constipation (0.4%). The most frequently mentioned preventative measures against toxoplasmosis were avoiding contact with cats (83.9%), personal hygiene (46.0%), avoiding the consumption of raw meat (45.8%), staying away from sandy beaches (4.9%), and avoiding contact with previously infected patients (0.4%).



How Is Toxoplasma Passed?

Your cat can get toxoplasmosis if it consumes the organism in the meat of an “intermediate host,” which is usually a rodent. Once infected, the Toxoplasma organism replicates or reproduces within your cat’s intestinal tract. The organism is usually contained in the tract. After the organism replicates oocysts (a form of eggs) are shed in the waste. 

Cats are the only definitive hosts of the organism and T. gondii only produces oocysts when infecting a feline. Immunocompromised cats can be susceptible to Toxoplasma, invading their intestine and spreading to other internal organs. Toxoplasma inflicts enough damage to the internal organs to cause signs of disease. Toxoplasma may also become dormant in a tissue cyst. Oocysts are a hardy organism as they can thrive in the environments for months or years. Other animals can ingest the oocysts and become infected. However, toxoplasmosis will manifest if the organism ingests large numbers of the oocysts.



How Is Toxoplasmosis Diagnosed and Treated?

It is difficult to diagnose the diseases in cats, as the signs can vary. In general, diagnosis will be based on your pet’s history, symptoms, and lab results, noted Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, a statutory college founded in 1894. Blood tests may help determine if your cat has been exposed to the organism.

However, tests do not mean that Toxoplasma is the root cause of any disease. This is because most cats that are exposed to the organisms do not develop toxoplasmosis. The presence of oocysts is not a reliable diagnostic method as they look similar to other parasites. If your cat is suspected to have toxoplasmosis, your veterinarian will treat it with antibiotics. One example of an antibiotic is clindamycin used either as a standalone or in combination with corticosteroids if your cat’s eyes or central nervous system is inflamed. Treatment begins immediately after the diagnosis and continues for several days after the symptoms disappear.



How Do I Protect Myself and My Cat?

Preventive measures include minimizing exposure to infective oocysts and shedding of oocysts into your surroundings. Feed your cats with commercially-prepared cooked food. Avoid feeding uncooked meat or rodents. Owning a cat does not mean you will be infected with toxoplasmosis considering the small probability of exposing yourself to the organism via your cat. However, it is more prudent to follow hygiene practices to protect yourself from infection.

When removing poop from your cat’s litter box, wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly to minimize infection. Disinfect the litter box with boiling water each day. Bear in mind that it takes over 24 hours for oocysts to be passed into poop to become infective. Discourage your pet from hunting or consuming raw or undercooked meat. Cook meat thoroughly at least 70-82°C throughout. After handling raw meat, wash your hands, equipment, and surfaces.  


What Happens When Pregnant Women Get Toxoplasmosis?

Between one-third and one-half of infants born to mothers who get infected with Toxoplasma during pregnancy are infected. Most of these women don’t show symptoms of toxoplasmosis at birth. However, many children are likely to develop signs of toxoplasmosis later in life. These signs include vision and hearing loss, mental retardation, and death. Pregnant women need not avoid cats, but they should avoid changing cat litter, advised CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the US’s national public health institute. If no one can do this, pregnant women should wear protective gloves and wash their hands with soap and water after changing the litter box.

While the chance of human infection is slim, it does not mean that you should slack off on hygiene. It is advisable to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling your cat’s litter box. Meat should be cooked at least 70-82°C to minimize infection.