All Pets Veterinary Clinic
Most people, especially women who have been pregnant and own cats, have heard of
toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a coccidial organism that can cause disease in most
mammals, including humans. The remainder of this article will look at the spread,
signs, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of toxoplasmosis.
Spread. Toxoplasmosis can be found in contaminated food, water, or soil. The
organism can also be present in an encysted form in a wide variety of animals. Cats and
other animals can become exposed to this organism by eating uncooked meats that contain
the encysted form. Cats are the only animal in which the organism can replicate and then
be shed to infect other mammals, including humans. The cat sheds an infective form of
the organism in itís feces. It is in this way that humans can become infected from pet
cats. More likely, however, is for transmission from undercooked pork.
Signs. There are often no signs of illness in an infected cat. Young and
immunocompromised cats may show signs such as loss of appetite, lethargy, difficulty
breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, ocular lesions, and neurological signs.
Diagnosis. The diagnosis of toxoplasmosis can be confirmed by finding
toxoplasmosis eggs in the feces, by serological testing, or by finding the encysted
form in the muscle. Diagnosing toxoplasmosis can be very difficult for three main
reasons. First of all, infected cats will not often show signs. Secondly, there is a
relatively narrow window as to when the organism can be found in a fecal sample. And
thirdly, it is estimated that 30% of all cats will have a positive titer for toxoplasmosis
may just mean that at one time, the cat had been exposed to toxoplasmosis.
Treatment. Generally, antibiotics are prescribed for cats diagnosed with
toxoplasmosis. However, there is some question as to how effective antibiotics are
with this organism.
Prevention. Because of the potential risk for humans to contract toxoplasmosis
from cats and pass it to an unborn child, the following preventative measures should be
taken. Pregnant women should avoid contact with cat feces. Cat litter pans should be
cleaned daily to prevent the build up of feces. And, you should avoid feeding cats raw
meat because it may contain the encysted form of toxoplasmosis. Since transmission
to people is more likely to occur from eating undercooked pork, proper cooking habits
and kitchen hygiene should also be stressed as methods to prevent toxoplasmosis.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not
intended to take the place of your regular veterinarian. Please do not hesitate
to contact your regular veterinarian if you have questions regarding your pet.
Karen Blakeley, DVM, MPH
14 December 2002