Many cats and dogs will show no signs (be asymptomatic) of being ill when infected with Toxoplasma gondii, and this is also true for a large number of people. However, while the disease is usually not dangerous for people with healthy immune systems, it can easily have serious consequences for those who are pregnant or immunocompromised.
Toxoplasma Gondii Parasite Life Cycle
Only cats are the definitive hosts for this parasite, which means that although Toxoplasma gondii can 'hitch a ride' with a dog or human (an intermediate host), it needs feline hosts to successfully complete its life cycle and infect/reinfect a suitable host.
How is Toxoplasma Gondii Contracted?
Once a cat has shed the oocysts (eggs) of the parasite, and they have reached the infectious stage, Toxoplasma gondii can be spread in a number of ways:
- From the feline feces directly- If there are litter boxes in your house, remember to clean them out daily! Fresh oocysts are not infectious. They will need at least 24 hours to become infectious. Remove the possibility right away and make sure you wash your hands after cleaning the litterbox.
- Cover sandboxes – Cats will use sandboxes as an outdoor litter box. If you have a sandbox on your property, be sure to cover it.
- Gardens/vegetables – Infected cats can contaminate your garden soil with oocysts (eggs) in the garden, which then will affect your fresh veggies. It is always best practice to wash your veggies before eating them and peel them whenever you can. This is not a likely way to contract Toxoplasmosis, but caution is never inadvisable.
- Ingesting contaminated meat – Lamb, pork, and venison are especially likely to be infected with T. gondii. Always make sure to cook your food to the recommended internal temperature for each type of meat.
- Drinking contaminated water – while contaminated water is uncommon in the United States now, it is important to be aware of any emergency water advisory warnings in your area, if Toxoplasma gondii has contaminated the water then you'll not want to consume unfiltered and unboiled tap water.
Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis
The majority of pets will not experience symptoms, but pets with compromised immune systems can be in serious danger. Symptoms of a pet experiencing a dangerous case of Toxoplasmosis include eye discharge, diarrhea, and the signs of respiratory, liver, and neurological disease.
Treatment for Toxoplasmosis
Diagnosing the condition is very difficult, blood tests can be performed for cats but they only detect if the parasite has been in your feline friend relatively recently. A positive test does not verify if the parasite is still currently present, or if it is currently active. If Toxoplasmosis is diagnosed it is important for your cat to be started on a treatment of antibiotics immediately.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.