Understanding How Toxoplasmosis Affects Your Cat

What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a protozoal disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii.  Cats are the definitive host (supports adult parasite) and become infected by eating an intermediate host with tissue cysts (such as rodents and birds), eating feces with infectious oocytes, or passing of tachyzoites from mother to fetus through the placenta.  

Infectious Stages:

Approximately 24-72 hours after the current host excretes feces, the oocyst within the feces becomes infectious through sporulation. Shortly after the susceptible host’s exposure to the infected feces, a tachyzoite forms and penetrates the gastrointestinal cells. At this point, the infection is capable of entering tissues and spreading throughout the body. Once the tachyzoites spread into neural and muscular tissue, they develop into bradyzoites. A cat’s immune system will shortly inactivate the infection and become immune, therefore, they only shed unsporulated oocysts in their feces once in their lifetime for about 3-20 days after exposure. After this occurs, they do not shed oocysts and pose no health risk to humans, however, the oocysts are able to survive several years outside a host.

Transmission to Humans:

Toxoplasmosis can be transmitted to humans via accidental ingestion of sporulated oocytes in cat feces or soil, however it is more commonly transmitted through ingestion of undercooked/raw red meat or eating unwashed fruits and vegetables. Most humans and animals infected with toxoplasmosis are asymptomatic and do not require medical treatment. While toxoplasmosis is typically harmless, it can cause serious illness in those who are immunocompromised, as well as causing severe harm to a fetus.

Clinical Symptoms Include...

  • fever
  • inappetance
  • pneumonia
  • depression
  • diarrhea
  • lethargy
  • hepatitis
  • abnormal behavior
  • poor coordination 

Symptoms vary from case to case, however, most pets and people are asymptomatic.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Laboratory testing, such as serology testing and fecal sampling is required to diagnose Toxoplasmosis as well as obtaining a thorough patient history.  A several week long course of antibiotics, such as Clindamycin (treatment of choice) is used to treat Toxoplasmosis. Glucocorticoids may be required to decrease inflammation if present.

How can I Prevent Toxoplasmosis?

Don’t get rid of your cat! 

  1. Scoop litter boxes daily and wash your hands with soap and water immediately afterwards. 

  2. If you are pregnant, ask someone else to scoop your cat’s litter box.

  3. Wear gloves when dealing with potentially contaminated soil or litter boxes.

  4. Don’t eat raw or undercooked meat.

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