Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection induced by Toxoplasma gondii, a microscopic parasite. It can be found in a variety of animal species, but cats are the most common carriers of the parasite to humans. Toxoplasmosis affects over 40 million people in the United States.
People and animals rarely display symptoms during or after infection, although those who are pregnant or have compromised immune systems are more vulnerable.
What is toxoplasmosis in cats?
Toxoplasma gondii is a microscopic single-celled parasite that the naked eye can’t see. It can live in dirt, water, raw meat, the bodies of many warm-blooded animals, and other areas, but it prefers cats. Infections typically last a few weeks, after which most humans and animals develop immunity.
How does toxoplasmosis spread in cats?
Cats normally contract toxoplasmosis by consuming raw or undercooked meat infected with the parasite. Toxoplasma gondii can also be found in the feces of infected cats, where it can infect other cats or animals that eat it. Cats cannot acquire the disease by physical contact with humans or other animals; instead, they must consume parasite-infested material.
Signs of Toxoplasmosis in cats
Since the immune system may usually prevent Toxoplasma parasites from causing illness, toxoplasmosis frequently presents with no symptoms. Nevertheless, Toxoplasmosiscauses more severe effects and long-term health threats in humans and animals that are pregnant or have compromised immune systems.
When cats become infected, they can experience only minor symptoms. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or other immune problems in cats may cause more serious symptoms. These signs and symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite or difficulty swallowing food
- Difficulty breathing
- Yellow skin (jaundice)
- Vision and balance problems
- Ear twitching
- Pressing their forehead against surfaces
- Behavioral changes
Diagnosing toxoplasmosis in cats
Toxoplasmosis may be diagnosed using blood tests, as well as physical signs of disease and a cat’s medical history. In a cat’s blood, these tests search for two forms of toxoplasmosis antibodies (chemicals generated by the immune system to destroy outside germs and infections).
One of these antibodies means that the cat was infected at some stage and is now resistant — meaning it can no longer affect other people or animals — while the other indicates that the infection is still active.
Treatments for toxoplasmosis in cats
Toxoplasmosis in cats is generally treated with an antibiotic called clindamycin, which you can give your cat via the mouth. For your cat’s eyes or other affected areas, a veterinarian can prescribe steroid creams or oral steroids.
Within a few days, these drugs should help symptoms disappear. If your cat doesn’t seem to be getting better, they may be suffering from another disease.
Preventing toxoplasmosis in cats
Ensure your cat isn’t eating wild mice or other prey, but only correctly prepared and packed wet or dry food. Keeping them inside reduces their chances of being infected with the parasite.
To stop your cat from coming into contact with infected feces from other cats, change their litter box regularly.
Toxoplasmosis in Humans
Toxoplasmosis can be contracted from a variety of sources, including:
- consuming raw or undercooked meat from parasite-infected animals or fish
- Consumption of unwashed fruits and vegetables
- Using parasite-infected utensils in the kitchen
- Consuming water contaminated with the parasite
- Disposing of cat feces and not properly washing hands afterward
- Gardening in dirty soil or touching infected cat feces-contaminated sandboxes without adequately washing hands
- Transmission from mother to child
- Blood transfusions or organ transplants (extremely rare)
The majority of humans infected with toxoplasmosis may not become ill. Nonetheless, infants, young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems due to HIV/AIDS or cancer are more likely to develop symptoms.
Others may continue to have symptoms, which include:
- Swollen lymph nodes (glands on the sides of your neck, underneath your ears)
- Body aches
- Congenital disabilities or defects that occur later in life
- Coughing blood
Preventing and treating toxoplasmosis in humans
Having a cat does not inherently increase the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis, but you should take precautions to reduce the risk.
Raw or undercooked meat or fish, raw milk, and items or surfaces that have come into contact with raw meat should all be avoided. When gardening, wear gloves and wash your hands afterward.
Before eating fruits and vegetables, make sure they’re clean. Since Toxoplasma in cat feces takes 24 hours to become infectious, change your cat’s litter box regularly while wearing gloves. If you’re pregnant or have a weakened immune system, stay away from the litter box.
The majority of people are screened for toxoplasmosis using the same blood tests as cats. A lumbar puncture can be used to obtain spinal fluid samples in exceptional cases.
Toxoplasmosis can be detected in pregnant women by amniotic fluid examinations, and physicians can screen newborns for the disease during a physical exam.
Toxoplasmosis is usually cured without treatment in otherwise healthy people. A mixture of medications, including anti-parasite and antibiotic drugs, can be used to treat sick people.
However, these medications may be less effective in pregnant women.