Toxoplasmosis in Cats: Symptoms and Prevention

  • By:

    Dr. Sara Ochoa
    Dr. Sara Ochoa

    Author: Dr. Sara Ochoa

    Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa is a veterinarian with many years of experience and higher education. During her time in veterinary school she was able to learn form some of the most well-known veterinarians from all over the world. Sara lives happily with her husband Greg and her babies Ruby the schnoodle, and Bam-Bam her bunny. Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa has a passion and love for animals that makes her a wonderful asset to our team.

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  • Updated on: 01/11/2021

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii.  This parasite is found in the soil and raw meat and can frequently affect cats.  Many doctors will warm people of this parasite if they are pregnant since it can cause problems with the baby’s development.  If you think that your cat has toxoplasma, it is best to see your veterinarian for testing. This article will explain all about toxoplasmosis, what signs to look for, and what you should do if you think your cat does have toxoplasmosis.  Many times, you can keep your cat while you are pregnant; there are just a few precautions that you should take.  

cat toxoplasmosis@user18617236 / Freepik

Your cat can get this parasite by killing and eating wild rodents or birds or by eating a raw diet.  This is one reason that many vets recommend a commercial diet over a raw diet. Once your cat is infected, the parasite will multiply in their intestines, making immature eggs called an oocyst.  The oocysts are shed in from your cat in their feces. Once the oocyst has left your cat’s body, it takes 1 to 5 days for that oocyst to become sporulated. This is the stage that it can affect other animals or people.  Most cats will shed oocyst for about 2 weeks after becoming infected. During this time, other cats in your house can also become infected if they come in contact with infected fecal material. This parasite can also be easily passed from your cat to you.  

Cat disease Toxoplasmosis Symptoms

Most cats show no symptoms of having toxoplasmosis.  Some may have mild diarrhea, fever, decreased appetite, or have become a little sluggish.  It can affect your cats’ lungs, liver, and nervous system. Kittens or immunocompromised cats are more likely to show more symptoms than healthy adult cats.  

@Nirzar Pangarkar

If you think that your cat may have toxoplasmosis, your veterinarian can run a test to see if they do have the parasite.  If the test is positive, it means that your cat has been exposed to toxoplasmosis but can only shed the parasite for the first two weeks after they were infected.  If your cat tests negative, it means that your cat has never been infected by toxoplasmosis, and when it does will shed oocyst for 2 weeks after they are infected.  

If your cat is still able to shed oocyst, they should be kept away from children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised people.  These are the people who are most likely to have problems with toxoplasmosis infection.

About 30 to 50% of cats and people have been exposed to toxoplasmosis.  This means that their body has already made antibodies to the parasite. It is not common to see a cat that is actively shedding the virus.  

Can you get Toxoplasmosis from petting a Cat?

It would be very rare for you to get toxoplasmosis from petting your cat. Your cat would have to have infected fecal material on their coat, and you would have to ingest this material.  The most common way for you to get infected is by coming into contact with the oocyst that is in raw meat or shed in your cat feces when you are cleaning their litter box. By washing your hands after cleaning the litter box or preparing raw meat will help decrease and even eliminate your chance of getting toxoplasmosis.  

cat disease toxoplasmosis@sakan.p / Freepik

Cat Toxoplasmosis Transmission to Humans

Toxoplasmosis can be transmitted from cats to humans by coming in contact with infected cat feces.  A more common way for you to get toxoplasmosis is by not washing your hands after handling raw meat, drinking contaminated water, or working in the garden or sandbox where an infected cat has pooped.  You cannot get this parasite by petting your cat; you would have to come in contact with their fecal material.

Most people have been exposed to toxoplasmosis, and they develop an immunity to this parasite.  This would mean that it would not cause you any problems if you came into contact with this parasite again.  If a person is immunocompromised, they can develop health-related issues from this parasite. Also, if a woman is infected while they are pregnant, the parasite can be transferred to the fetus leading to many developmental problems and even stillbirth or a miscarriage.  

Women who are pregnant can be tested for toxoplasma.  If they are positive, they have already had the disease and cannot pass toxoplasma to their fetus.  If they test negative, they should take all preventative measures to keep from being exposed to toxoplasmosis. It is not necessary to get rid of your cat if you do become pregnant; just take the proper hygiene precautions, and you and your fetus will be healthy.

How to avoid getting Toxoplasmosis?

If you are one of the few people who have never been exposed to toxoplasmosis, you can avoid getting infected by not eating raw or undercooked meat, washing your hands as soon as your done preparing raw meat, and not being near cat feces.  Once a cat passes an oocyst in their feces, it can take 24 hours for that oocyst to be able to infect a person. If you do have to clean a litter box, wear gloves, and make sure that you clean the litter box twice a day. This will prevent the oocyst from being able to develop further, causing an infection.

READ MORE: Cat Survival Kit

How to prevent Toxoplasmosis in Cats

Prevention is the best way to keep your cat healthy.  There is no vaccine that your cat can have to prevent them from getting toxoplasmosis, there are many things that you can do at home, such as:

  • Test all your cats.  By testing, you will know if they have been exposed to toxoplasma
  • Keep your cats inside.  Cats commonly get toxoplasma by killing and eating small mammals.  If your cat is strictly indoor, you are eliminating this as a possible way of transmission.
  • Do not feed your cats raw meat. Raw meat is another way that your cat can be infected.  Make sure that you are feeding a commercial cat food or that your cat’s food is fully cooked before feeding it to them
  • Do not eat undercooked meat.  If you eat undercooked meat, there is a chance that your cat could get into some of this meat and get infected.  Make sure that your food is also fully cooked.
  • Do not let your cat hunt.  If your cat is outdoors, deter them from hunting.  Make sure that your cat has plenty of cat food and other toys to keep them entertained.  
  • Clean your cat’s litter box frequently. This will help spread toxoplasma from one cat to another.

Does Toxoplasmosis go away?

how to know if your cat has toxoplasmosis@pasja1000 / Pixabay

Toxoplasma does not go away.  There are antibiotics that your cat can take to help with the symptoms, but there is nothing that you can give your cat to stop them from shedding the oocyst.  Once a cat is infected, they are infected for their whole life. They will only shed the parasite for 2 weeks after the initial infection. Your cat’s immune system will keep their bodies from shedding the oocyst after they develop antibodies to the parasite.   If your cat did ever become immunocompromised, then they may be able to shed oocyst again.  

Final Thoughts

While toxoplasmosis is very commonly seen in cats who spend time outside catching wild prey, it rarely causes them or people any problems.  If you are pregnant, by testing your cat and taking the proper hygienic steps will help make sure that you have a successful pregnancy. Talk with your doctor and veterinarian about what you can do to make sure that you and your cats stay healthy and happy.  

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