When it comes to the profiling of contagious diseases that can pass from cat to human, Toxoplasmosis is one that is very well known. But what exactly is this disease, how can it be caused, and what are some of the myths about it? Read on below for an understanding of this highly prolific zoonotic disease.
What is Toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a disease which is caused as a result of infection with Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite. Although this disease can infect almost all mammals, it’s definitive host is the cat. What this means is that although other mammals can carry the parasite, it can reproduce inside the body of a cat.
The kind of infection caused is usually mild, except for the case of immunosuppressed and weakened individuals. In humans, the most common route of infection is through the ingestion of infected meat or milk, although in some cases infection may happen through accidental inhalation or ingestion from cat feces e.g. while cleaning a litter box.
Toxoplasmosis in cats and other pets
Toxoplasmosis doesn’t just affect humans – it affects animals as well. Because the parasite has adapted superbly, it can adjust to a number of environments, meaning it can infect a number of host animals including pets like cats and dogs. However this infection is rarely observed and most commonly seen in cats.
The symptoms of Toxoplasmosis
If you have or your cat has been infected by the Toxoplasmosis parasite, you may start to exhibit the following symptoms. Visit the doctor or the vet as soon as you notice them.
In most cases, because of the mild nature of the disease, it may prove to be asymptomatic. This means that no symptoms will be seen. However in other cases the symptoms are seen but because of the lack of severity, may even be confused with the common cold. Some of these symptoms are:
- Headaches and high fever
- Fatigue, body aches, and exhaustion
- Swelling in the lymph nodes
In certain cases, some individuals are at a higher risk of infection, and the symptoms are much more severe. This includes immunosuppressed people, who are either taking therapy to reduce their immune response (such as after a transplant) and people who have lowered immunity because of another disease. They may notice:
- Confusion and lack of coordination
- Severe headaches and fatigue
- Problems with lungs and breathing
- Difficulty with vision
Another high-risk group is pregnant women. This is because Toxoplasmosis is a disease that can pass from mother to child. This can result in stillbirths as well as miscarriages. If the babies survive, they may be born with Jaundice, eye infection, large liver or spleen, or even seizures. In some cases, the child may not show signs of disability until much later.
In animals, the disease can result in various general symptoms such as high fever, a sudden loss of appetite, coupled with distress and depression. As with humans, these symptoms appear more often in cats that are either suffering an immunosuppressive disease or are under medication.
As the infection grows, this may lead to more severe symptoms such as arrhythmias, development of lung diseases, and a stiffened gait.Pregnant cats may lose their kittens. In dogs, this disease may be seen as a result of a primary distemper infection.
Common causes of Toxoplasmosis
The ingestion of infected foods is a common way of the development of this disease. Along with this, the disease can be caused by the inhalation and handling of cat feces, such as during the action of cleaning a cat’s litter box. Additionally, some vegetable and fruit skins may be carrying the disease. In some, very rare cases, the disease may also spread through infected transplant organs and blood.
Prevention of Toxoplasmosis
Now that you know what Toxoplasmosis is and how it is caused, you must be wondering, how can I stop this disease from affecting my life? Listed below are some prevention methods you can use to reduce the spread of this disease.
Prevention tips for humans
Using these tips, you can reduce the chances of infection with Toxoplasmosis. If you are at risk, you need to make sure you are following all of these methods.
- Under all circumstances, avoid the ingestion of raw meat.
- Peel and clean all of your fruits and vegetables before eating them
- If you are pregnant, avoid cleaning your cat’s litter box.
- At any point, avoid handling soil directly and instead use gloves.
- Avoid drinking milk that hasn’t been treated and can be infected.
Prevention tips for pets and animals
Your furry friends will benefit greatly using the prevention methods listed below, to keep them and the other mammals and humans around them safe.
- Indoor cats are at lower risk of carrying this disease, so keep your cat indoors.
- Avoid feeding your cat and other pets a raw meat diet, which may be infected and contain the parasite.
- Get your cats tested for Toxoplasma gondii whenever you can.
- Wear gloves when cleaning out your cat’s litter and clean hands after.
- Clean your cat’s litter regularly and clean the box itself too.
- Never allow your dogs to have access to the cat’s litter box.
Once you get the results back, don’t panic if your cat is tested positive. If the cat has been tested positive and doesn’t currently have the disease, this is the best case scenario. What this means is that your cat was infected once, but now has immunity against the disease. Because of this, the chances of him or her either getting infected or becoming a source of infection are relatively low.
Treatment of Toxoplasmosis
Although because of its mild nature, a lot of the people won’t know they are infected, you should be highly alert if you fall in the at-risk groups when it comes to Toxoplasmosis. If you note the symptoms, go straight to a doctor. In cases of inflammation of the eye, you will probably need immediate medical attention and so it is best not to delay.
If you notice any of the signs mentioned above in your cat or dog, you need to take him or her to the vet immediately. Possibly, once the vet has examined the animal, he or she will recommend antibiotics. These will help prevent secondary infections and will keep your pet safe.
Myths about the disease
Contrary to some popular beliefs about the disease, you cannot contract the disease by touching the cat’s coat, scratches, or bites. This is because the parasite’s oocytes are not present on the cat’s person, but only in the feces. Even though infection through cat feces is possible, it is also not the most common route of infection.
Most commonly, human beings contract the disease via undercooked meat which is infected and contains the oocytes. This can also be the case for exposure to infected milk, which will also have similar effects on humans. Toxoplasmosis is also misunderstood in the way that is not contagious from person to person.
Generally, when it comes to Toxoplasmosis, although it is a medical condition that can affect both pets and their humans, it seems the pets are less a cause than it is widely thought.