Critter Culture
The Ins and Outs of Understanding Toxoplasmosis

The Ins and Outs of Understanding Toxoplasmosis

Critter Culture Staff



Toxoplasmosis is certainly a mouthful. Its large name seems intimidating, but it shouldn't be a big deal for most animal lovers. A common parasitic infection, it usually doesn't pack a powerful punch unless your kitty has some preexisting conditions that make them susceptible to stronger symptoms.

Humans aren't immune from toxoplasmosis, either. As a cat owner, it's important to read up on the subject to understand its effects and how to prevent this curious disease.


Toxoplasmosis in cats

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Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) is a microscopic parasite. It causes toxoplasmosis in many mammals, but cats are the biggest transmitters for unknown reasons. T. gondii thrives in places like raw meat, water, and soil, but its internal survival rate is highest in felines.

If a cat becomes infected, the disease lasts a few weeks. Fortunately, just like in other animals, your kitty will most likely be immune from future toxoplasmosis episodes once the infection runs its course.


How toxoplasmosis is caused

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If your cat eats commercial food and hangs out at home all day, they're going to have a lower chance of contracting toxoplasmosis. Stray and outdoor felines have higher rates due to their lifestyle. Tainted raw meat is usually the cause. Rodents, in particular, are considered intermediate hosts. T. gondii lives in them, and then the infected rodent becomes a cat's prey. This kicks off the transmission's cycle.


The dangers of litter boxes

two kittens sitting near their litter box Galina Sandalova / Getty Images

Litter boxes are your biggest in-house threat for toxoplasmosis. T. gondii lives in feces, so if an animal licks or eats anything from the pan, they're at a higher risk of contracting the infection. It's important to note that ingestion is the only way a mammal can contract the parasite.

T. gondii is hardy. It becomes contagious after 24 hours and will survive in an external environment for months or even years. Cleaning litter boxes daily is a primary way to defend your home against its effects. Always follow the N+1 rule, too: have one more pan than cats. So if you live with multiple cats, do your best to give each pet their own personal area.


Symptoms in healthy cats

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Around half of all adult cats carry toxoplasmosis antibodies. This means that about half the feline population contracted the infection at one point. Yet in most pets, an owner will never know.

A healthy immune system will usually keep the infection from causing any illness. The body can handle T. gondii without presenting any symptoms. This doesn't mean the animal doesn't have it, though. An infected kitty in good health and showing no signs can still transmit the disease to a compromised companion through ingested fecal matter.


Signs in at-risk cats

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At-risk cats include pregnant females, those with weak immune systems or preexisting medical problems, kittens, and seniors. For those in these categories, the illness should last its typical duration, but the after-effects may be longstanding if untreated. In certain instances, they could continue for the rest of the animal's life.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on your kitty's health. Fever, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite, jaundice, seizures, respiratory issues, vision problems, lack of coordination, and unusual behavior are the primary signs. Call your vet immediately if your cat has any of these physical or behavioral symptoms.


The process of diagnosing

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A healthy kitty likely won't end up at the vet's getting diagnosed. For an ill feline, a medical history review and a physical exam are standard. Then the cat will have a blood test. If the animal has been exposed, this test will indicate one of two antibodies: either past infection with current immunity or an active infection.


Available treatments

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A rigid course of antibiotics is the top treatment for toxoplasmosis, and symptoms should clear up in a few days. Depending on the animal's condition, other medications should also be administered. If there are vision issues, a steroid cream will help. Oral steroids are highly effective, too. And if the cat isn't eating, an appetite stimulant may come in handy.


Preventing the spread of toxoplasmosis

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Aside from litter box changing, cleaning, and separation, there are a few other steps you can take to decrease the chances of a toxoplasmosis outbreak in your home. Keeping your cat inside at all times will lessen the likelihood of them eating infected meat. And definitely skip the homemade diet: feed them high-quality commercial food that's properly prepared and tested instead.


Cats passing it onto humans

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Despite the larger in-house threat, toxoplasmosis doesn't have a higher rate in cat owners. Usually, if a human contracts it, it's due to infected meat. And the same signs, or lack thereof, that occur in cats will also show in humans. Healthy individuals often won't have any indicators and the disease will run its course. Those with preexisting conditions will require medical treatment. Children, seniors, and pregnant women are also more susceptible. Symptoms include aches, fever, fatigue, and coughing up blood.


The prevention of feline to human transfer

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You already know how to keep up with litter boxes to minimize in-house risk. Remember to wear gloves whenever you're cleaning or changing them, and always thoroughly wash your hands afterward.

The same rings true for whenever you're doing yard work. Whether you have an outdoor cat or a stray pays a visit to your landscape, they could use your yard as a litter box. These precautions will help keep yourself and your home safe. Also, don't let any at-risk people deal with cat litter or gardening.



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