Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite like giardia. Related to the coccidian protozoa, all warm-blooded animals are at risk of Toxoplasma gondii infection. Today our Rancho Palos Verdes vets are here to educate pet owners about everything they need to know regarding Toxoplasma gondii.
Toxoplasmosis will be asymptomatic for many cats and dogs, just like it is in people. But while the disease is usually not dangerous for people with healthy immune systems, it can easily turn deadly in patients who are pregnant or immunocompromised.
Life Cycle of the Toxoplasma Gondii Parasite
The only definitive hosts for Toxoplasma gondii are felines - while dogs and humans are intermediate hosts. Essentially, the parasite thrives within cats but will hitch a ride in their canine or human roommates to try and find another suitable definitive host. An infected feline will pass feces with eggs inside it - consumption of these feces spreads the parasite to intermediate hosts who in turn if they are consumed by a member of the feline family can become infected and begin the lifecycle anew.
How is Toxoplasma Gondii Contracted?
Once a cat has shed the oocysts (eggs), and they have reached the infectious stage, they can be picked up 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 WASH YOUR HANDS.
- 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 – Cats can release oocysts (eggs) in the garden, which then will contaminate the soil of 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 it is ultimately possible so 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 start treatment on antibiotics immediately.