In many cats and dogs, Toxoplasmosis is asymptomatic, just like in people. However, while the disease isn't usually dangerous for people that have healthy immune systems, it could easily become fatal in those who are immunocompromised or pregnant.
The Toxoplasma Gondii Parasite Life Cycle
Felines are the only definitive hosts for Toxoplasma gondii - while dogs and humans are intermediate hosts. This means that 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.
The Ways Toxoplasma Gondii is Contracted
After a cat has shed the oocysts (eggs), and they have entered the infectious stage, they can be picked up in various ways;
- From the feline feces directly- If you have litter boxes in your home, it's important to clean them daily! Fresh oocysts are not infectious. They require a minimum of 24 hours to become infectious. Immediately remove the possibility and when you are done, wash your hands thoroughly.
- Keep sandboxes covered – Cats use sandboxes as outdoor litter boxes, so if you have one, remember to cover it.
- Gardens/vegetables – Cats can release oocysts (eggs) in the garden, which can contaminate the soil of your fresh veggies. It's always best practice to wash your veggies before eating them and peel them when possible. This isn't a likely way to contract Toxoplasmosis, but it's still possible, so it's advisable to be cautious.
- Ingesting contaminated meat – Lamb, pork, and venison are especially likely to be infected with T. gondii. Always remember to cook your food to the recommended internal temperature for each type of meat.
- Drinking contaminated water – while it's uncommon for water to be contaminated in the United States today, it's essential to be aware of any emergency water advisory warnings in your area. If Toxoplasma gondii has contaminated the water, you don't want want to consume unfiltered and unboiled tap water.
Signs & Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis
Most pets won't develop symptoms, however, pets that have compromised immune systems can be in serious danger. If your pet has a serious case of Toxoplasmosis they could develop symptoms such as eye discharge, diarrhea, and signs of respiratory, liver, and neurological disease.
It's very hard to diagnose this condition. Blood tests can be conducted for cats, but the parasite can only be detected if your cat has been infected fairly recently. A positive test does not verify if the parasite is still currently present, or if it is currently active. If your cat is diagnosed with Toxoplasmosis it's important for them to start antibiotic treatment immediately.