Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), a single-celled parasite, affects the majority of warm-blooded animals, including cats and people. This parasite is occasionally misunderstood when it comes to our feline companions, despite the fact that it poses a major threat to particular segments of the population.
What Is Toxoplasmosis, Exactly?
Toxoplasmosis is one of the most common parasitic infections, however it rarely causes cats to show any clinical symptoms since it is caused by the parasite T. gondii (or people). T. gondii has a pretty complex life cycle. It involves various cystic forms, definitive hosts (those in which the parasite can reproduce by forming eggs, also known as oocysts, which are eventually ejected in the host’s feces), and intermediate hosts (those where the parasite must reproduce by cloning itself and then clustering those clones within cysts). Cats, both domestic and wild cats, are the particular hosts of T. gondii because they may excrete oocysts in their stool. Any other animal that the T. gondii infection infects is considered an intermediate host.
When cats pursue parasite-carrying animals, they become sick. T. gondii multiplies when it infects an intermediate host, and the cysts that develop assemble all throughout the body of the host animal. The host animal will carry these cysts around for the remainder of its days. If the host animal is ever killed, whether by a predator who kills it or a scavenger that consumes it after it has died, those cysts then infect the animal that eats the host. T. gondii infection can affect any predator, including cats. It is uncertain how common toxoplasmosis is in cats, however it is thought that between 15% and 40% of cats have at some point had the disease.
Because feeding your cat raw food has become more and more popular, it should be stressed that this might lead to contaminated food becoming a source of the parasite for your cat. If you insist on feeding your cat raw food, there are commercial freeze-dried brands that effectively undergo high pressure pasteurization (HPP) without actually cooking the food. Naturally, it’s better to completely avoid the problem and feed your cat cooked food, whether it’s prepared at home or from a store.
When a cat eats the T. gondii organism from an infected intermediate host, the parasite is released from the cysts that were created in the intermediate animal and enters the GI tract. The parasite can then begin producing oocysts that are expelled in the cat’s stool as soon as this takes place. Oocysts can be sent out by cats for up to 3 weeks after they consume them, beginning as soon as 3 days afterwards. However, oocysts are not always expelled by infected cats.
A feces-derived oocyst is also not immediately contagious after being expelled. Prior to sporulation, which can take 1 to 5 days depending on the environment, the oocyst must develop. Oocysts are also quite resilient to the environment. Occasionally, depending on the situation, a year or more.
But T. gondii is difficult. When an animal becomes a parasite’s permanent host, not all parasites that infect an organ will persist in the cat’s digestive system. Some will grow and firmly embed themselves into the digestive system of the cat. Others will keep moving to avoid the cat. Wherever they land up, the cat’s immune system will transform this particular strain of T. gondii into a dormant, cystic state. These cysts are equally as capable of infecting a predator as cysts that originated in an intermediate host.
Can your cat inflict toxoplasmosis on you?
Cats are the most popular family pet in the US. Due to its ability to shed oocysts for days to weeks at a time, this parasite appears to be posing an increasing hazard to public health. Do those who own cats have a higher risk of getting sick than those who don’t? Well, humans are also susceptible to the same infection routes that harm cats. Additionally, eating contaminated raw or undercooked meat as well as not washing fruit that was grown in contaminated soil can make people sick. Of course, if your cat is sick and actively losing oocysts, there is also a possibility for infection if you clean up the cat’s litter box without washing your hands afterwards.
Therefore, while it is true that inadequate hygiene after cleaning the cat box is one way for a human to catch T. gondii, it is not the only way.
Cats and people are both frequently prone to disease. Most persons who contract T. gondii won’t have any parasite symptoms. If a woman contracts the sickness while she is expecting, there is a 20–50% chance that the disease will transfer to the fetus. The majority of them will remain asymptomatic, but if an infection occurs in utero and the kid survives to term, it may cause birth defects, neurological illnesses, or visual problems.
Your cat might get a toxoplasmosis test from your vet. Because the test is a particular blood test that must be submitted to an outside laboratory, you might not get results for a few days. If your cat tests positive for toxoplasmosis, it doesn’t matter if she is actively shedding oocysts at the time because it implies she has been exposed to the parasite at some point in her life. If the results of the toxoplasmosis test are negative, your cat has not been exposed to the parasite.
Toxoplasmosis is easily treated with a short course of antibiotics. If your cat has significant inflammation as a result of her infection, your veterinarian may also advise a course of corticosteroids.
T. gondii infections in cats, however, usually do not cause clinical disease. However, if a cat’s immune system isn’t strong enough to fight off the infections that migrate from the GI tract, then occasionally the cat will start exhibiting clinical symptoms of the illness. These can have a variety of symptoms, including fever, appetite loss, and exhaustion. Depending on where the parasite migrates, these new symptoms may include pneumonia or breathing problems, inflammatory eye problems, jaundice and liver illness, and even tremors/seizures. If, however, your cat begins to exhibit symptoms, treatment is a simple antibiotic course. If the eyes or nervous system are inflamed, your veterinarian might also give your pet some corticosteroids.
Despite not necessarily needing to worry about it constantly, all cat owners should be aware of toxoplasmosis in cats. The benefit of being a permanent host for the parasite is that it does not serve the parasite’s objectives to cause clinical illness in the host animal. Therefore, it is unlikely that your cat will experience a clinical disease. You can relax if you’re concerned that your cat has T. gondii because good hygiene can prevent you from getting sick. If you are expecting, you should take additional precautions by wearing gloves when cleaning the kitty box. Of course, you could simply cuddle with your feline companion as your lover cleans the cat carrier for you. Cats and toxoplasmosis have been the subject of a lot of exaggerated material in the past. If you’re concerned that your cat might be at risk for toxoplasmosis, your veterinarian can help you separate fact from fiction.
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