Toxoplasmosis in Cats: How Does This Cat Parasite Affect Humans?

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Toxoplasmosis in Cats: How Does This Cat Parasite Affect Humans?Have you ever heard about Toxoplasmosis in cats? Did you know that this feline parasitic disease can affect humans!
Toxoplasmosis is quite a common parasitic disease in cats, and it can infect up t0 30% of pets in the USA.

The good news is treating toxoplasmosis is very straightforward. So, as long as you notice the signs and symptoms as they arise, and seek treatment in a timely manner, your little ball of fur should be back to being his or her rambunctious (or lazy) self in a matter of days.

What is Toxoplasmosis?

Vector illustration of Toxoplasma gondii parasite in cats and infection of a pregnant woman

Toxoplasmosis in cats is a parasitic infection that’s caused by the presence of microscopic parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii, also known as T. gondii. This protozoan parasite tends to infect warm-blooded animals and is thus considered a zoonotic parasite.

The toxoplasmosis parasite consists of three life stages, this includes:

1. Tachyzoites: During this stage, the parasite will quickly multiply and disseminate throughout the blood. Thus, it is during this stage where the parasite will begin to infect as much tissue as possible.

2. Bradyzoites: When the body’s immune system detects the inflammation caused by the parasite, then the Tachyzoites replication will be attenuated. This results in the start of the bradyzoites stage which simply means that the parasite will form tissue cysts.

3. Sporozoites: This is the last and final stage of the parasite, during this stage, the organism reproduces asexually forming sporulated oocysts. The oocysts are then passed out through the cat’s feces. Fortunately, this stage is not considered an infective stage.

Toxoplasmosis in cats can be thought of in the same way malaria affects humans: When identified and controlled early, the illness causes minor complications at its worst.  So, prevention and recognition of symptoms are key when it comes to controlling the Toxoplasmosis in cats.

6 Facts About Toxoplasmosis in Cats

  1. Immune System:  Cats that are immuno-compromised or have a weakened immune system are most likely to develop adverse reactions to Toxoplasma gondii. These include kittens, older cats, pregnant cats, or cats with feline leukemia disease (FLD).
  2. Litter Boxes Matter: Do you clean your cat’s litter box every day? If you don’t, then you’re putting your kitty at risk for a host of health problems, and the toxoplasmosis infection is just one of them.
  3. Transmission Concerns: Toxoplasma gondii is a zoonotic disease. This means that you can catch this parasite your cat. This is of particular concern with pregnant cats and pregnant women as it could lead to the development of congenital toxoplasmosis.
  4. Effects are Devastating or Mild: Your cat can handle toxoplasmosis without any intervention sometimes. However, as every cat is different, it’s important to keep in mind that some cats may develop a lot more severe symptoms of the disease.
  5. Easy to Treat: If your cat is infected with toxoplasmosis, then getting treatment is very simple. Most cats may make a speedy recovery once treated
  6. Rampant in Feral Cats: A study in Giza, Egypt found a feral cat colony with 97 percent of cats suffering a toxoplasma infection. Raw meat or undercooked meat is one of the primary transmission sources of the toxoplasma parasite. Feral cats are more likely to eat raw meat, undercooked meat, or infected meat, or come into contact with contaminated soil than domestic cats.

Clinical Signs and Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis and T. Gondii

Cats with toxoplasmosis do not show any outward signs of the disease. However, this isn’t always the case. The presence of T. gondii can affect cats in different ways. The most common symptoms in cats, according to Cornell University, are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever, and
  • Lethargy

If toxoplasmosis – the clinical term for an infection arising from the presence of T. gondii – is present, then it could affect various parts of the body. This includes the respiratory and nervous system.

Cats who develop chronic lung infection will develop symptoms such as:

  • Dyspnea (which means labored breathing)
  • Coughing
  • Anorexia
  • Jaundice

Other symptoms of the disease can include the following:

  • Blindness
  • Retinal inflammation
  • Personality changes
  • Seizures
  • Nervous system disorders

Does My Cat Have Toxoplasmosis?

The only way you can find out if your kitty has toxoplasmosis is to have them tested. However, if you notice any of the symptoms above, then it’s best to get your cat to the vet quickly for treatment.

Generally, If symptoms persist for more than a few days after treatment, then it’s a safe bet toxoplasmosis is not the cause of your cat’s illness.

Unfortunately, you can’t confirm the presence of toxoplasmosis in cats unless there are blood tests performed. These blood tests may involve cytology, clinical chemistry, and hematology.

The ELISA test is another diagnostic tool that’s used to test for the presence of toxoplasmosis. This tool tests for the antibodies specific to the parasite.

If you’re dealing with a feral or stray cat, then it is safe to assume that they are very likely carriers of T.gondii. This is because cats routinely kill other animals (even indoor cats are known to kill mice and other small vermin) who likely carry the parasite within them.

Yikes! Can I Get Toxoplasmosis from My Cat?

The short answer – yes! T.gondii is present in cat feces, if you’re cleaning a litter box, you could very well contract toxoplasmosis. This is because cats and kittens carry millions of parasites in their feces, even long after the infection is cured. That’s the bad news. 

The good news is you are more likely to contract toxoplasmosis from eating undercooked meat than from your cat’s feces.

The people who are most susceptible to toxoplasmosis are pregnant women and those with immunodeficiencies. If you are undergoing immunosuppressive treatments such as those for an organ transplant or have a condition affecting your immune systems such as HIV or AIDS, then you may be at a higher risk of contracting toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasmosis in Pregnant Women

Close up of a cat with toxoplasmosis and pregnant women in the background

For many pregnant women, toxoplasmosis will not present any symptoms; instead, it will just exist silently because the body’s immune system has handled the threat. However, there is a great risk to the unborn child. Because one of the ways toxoplasmosis can be transmitted is via the placenta, thus increasing the risk of congenital toxoplasmosis.

Many infants will not show signs of infection, but the effects of the infection may appear later. These symptoms include loss of vision, mental retardation, loss of hearing, and death in severe cases. Since the immune system of a fetus is not as well-developed as an adult, it is important to be aware of these risks.

My Kitty Has Toxoplasmosis! What’s Next?

If you are able to ask that question, then it means your vet already has a plan of action. Often, your vet will prescribe an antibiotic for your kitty. Many antibiotics are incredibly effective and do not require much time to treat the infection, allowing your kitty to return to his or her mischievous self.

As with any infection, the sooner treatment starts the better the prognosis for your cat. In more acute cases, it’s imperative to begin treatment immediately. If there is no improvement after a couple days, then toxoplasmosis may not be what’s affecting your cat. At this point, more tests will be required to root out other possible illnesses or infections.

What if I Have Toxoplasmosis?

Unless you are a pregnant woman or someone with a compromised immune system, then toxoplasmosis generally resolves itself. Many humans who catch the parasite Toxoplasma gondii will experience lymph node swelling and flu-like symptoms. However, in most cases, the human’s immune response kicks in, and symptoms tend to disappear on their own. The life cycle of the infection typically only lasts a few weeks. Many humans are unaware they ever had Toxoplasmosis from the start.

On the other hand, if you think you may have toxoplasmosis, and you’re in those risk categories, be sure to see your doctor right away. Your doctor will have the treatment needed to mitigate any problems due to toxoplasmosis. One common treatment method is using a medication with folinic acid. Folinic acid helps promote cell growth and repair.

Don’t wait – in people with immune system conditions, toxoplasmosis has been known to affect cause brain swelling, a very dangerous and potentially life-threatening condition.

Keep Yourself Protected! Prevent Catching This Parasite

The good news about T. gondii is how preventable the disease is! The easiest way to prevent T. gondii from affecting your cat and possibly yourself is cleaning the cat litter box daily. Fortunately, T. gondii takes several days to mature and become infectious. Therefore, you won’t have to worry about your cat’s exposure to daily litter box cleaning.

For people, it’s rare that cat feces will cause an infection arising from T. gondii. It is far more likely that undercooked meat or raw meat will transmit the parasite. Make sure to cook all meat the proper specifications.

Now, what if you are pregnant or have an immunodeficiency? Make sure you clean the litter box with gloves and do any outdoor work with gloves. This step may seem a bit overkill but as the saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Granted, for humans, T. gondii isn’t as much of a threat as other parasites or germs. But if you have the opportunity to avoid the disease, then why wouldn’t you glove up?

Common Questions On Toxoplasmosis In Cats

Do House Cats Have Toxoplasmosis?

What Causes Toxoplasmosis In Cats?

Can I Get Toxoplasmosis From A Cat Scratch?

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