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Toxoplasmosis in Cats

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What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii which can be found in soil and raw meat.  Cats get toxoplasmosis by eating infected meat or prey or by coming into contact with contaminated soil or faecal matter. Kittens are most vulnerable from infection and most likely to become infected in the womb or through their mother’s milk. Toxoplasmosis can be passed from cats to other animals including dogs and humans.

Toxoplasmosis is particularly dangerous for pregnant women as the disease can damage a developing fetus.

What are the symptoms of Toxoplasmosis in cats?

Symptoms you may see are:-

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Breathing problems such as shortness of breath
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Tremors
  • Jaundice

Although, cats can be carriers of toxoplasmosis without showing symptoms.

What causes Toxoplasmosis in cats?

Cats are the only mammals in which toxoplasma is passed through the faeces. A cat develops toxoplasmosis by ingesting the parasite through contaminated matter.  The parasite lives and multiplies in the intestine where, for about 2 weeks after having infected its host, it reproduces immature egg-like forms (oocysts) which leave the cat’s body in the cat’s faeces.  The oocysts can then be ingested by other animals where they migrate to the muscle tissue and brain.  When a cat eats this infected meat or prey the life cycle is repeated.

Once shed, oocysts will not be infective for at least 48 hours but can survive in the environment for several years and are resistant to most disinfectants.

What puts a cat at risk of Toxoplasmosis?

Infection usually occurs after eating undercooked contaminated meat, exposure from infected cat faeces, or mother-to-kitten transmission during pregnancy or through the mother’s milk.  Cats which like to go outdoors, and particularly those which like to hunt and eat their prey, are most at risk of contracting toxoplasmosis.

Diagnosis

If your cat is showing any of the above symptoms, it could indicate a number of different illnesses.  Your vet will examine your cat and ask for a detailed history of your cat’s health and the nature of their symptoms.  Routine blood tests and urinalysis will be undertaken and if you are able to take along a sample of your cat’s faeces, this may also assist with diagnosis, if they are still shedding oocysts.

Serological tests are most reliable for a obtaining a clear diagnosis of toxoplasmosis. This test measures the levels of toxoplasma antigens in the body, enabling your vet to determine the type of infection and whether it is active, dormant, recent (acute) or long term (chronic).

What treatments are there for cats with Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is treated with antibiotics to prevent infection and stall the spread of the disease. If your cat is seriously ill, they may need to be hospitalised in order to receive additional treatment such as intravenous fluids for hydration and other supportive care.

Most pets with toxoplasmosis will recover with treatment, although young cats or those with a weakened immune system may have a poorer prognosis.

How can I prevent my cat from getting Toxoplasmosis?

Do not feed your cat raw meat or unpasteurised goats milk.

Cats which come into contact with other cats and who like to hunt are most at risk, so it would be best to keep them indoors. Even if your cat doesn’t hunt and you do allow them to go outdoors, be aware that the Toxoplasma gondii parasite can easily be acquired from other cats and by digging in the dirt.

If your cat uses a litter tray, faeces should be removed daily and if you have dogs, they should not be allowed to get access to the box.