Toxoplasmosis in Cats: Become an Expert

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Toxoplasmosis in Cats

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What is Toxoplasmosis in Cats?

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease. The disease is caused by a protozoan (single-celled) parasite called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii). This parasitic disease is found globally, and it can affect all warm-blooded animals including humans.

This parasite can reside in the bodies of humans for long periods. It is estimated by the Centre for Disease that more than 40 million people living in the United States are infected with the T. gondii parasite.  However, our immune systems are usually well prepared for the parasite, meaning that contraction often results in no illness. Saying that those who are more susceptible to toxoplasmosis are: those with weak immune systems, the elderly, the young, and pregnant women.

Now you have learnt that the chances of you falling victim to this disease are extremely low (panic over), we can get back to learning about toxoplasmosis in cats.

There are different life stages of the T. gondii parasite:

  • Tachyzoites – this is the form when T. gondii is rapidly multiplying (inside the cats’ body and the form when transferred across the placenta)
  • Bradyzoites – this is the tissue cysts form of T. gondii (when it is present in raw meat and prey)
  • Sporozoites – this is the immature form of the eggs (inside the cats’ body and soon after excretion)
  • Oocysts – this is the mature form of T. gondii eggs (found in cat faeces after sporulation)

How do Cats Contract Toxoplasmosis?

The contraction of toxoplasmosis in cats is a complex process, but we are here to help break it down for you.

Cats are the only definitive host of the T. gondii parasite. What this means is that the parasites must be processed through the cats’ body for them to reproduce and replicate. We will outline the process below:

  1. Cats ingest T. gondii

This can be ingested in multiple ways. For example:

  • The parasites can be found in the soil (sporozoites/oocysts)
  • They can be present in raw meat (bradyzoites)
  • They can be present in the tissues of the wild prey that they catch, in the form of cysts (bradyzoites)
  • They can be transferred across the placenta of a pregnant cat (tachyzoites)
  1. Once ingested, the T. gondii parasites then thrive and replicate inside the cats’ body (tachyzoites)
  2. After they begin to develop, they then reach the immature form of the eggs (sporozoites)
  3. These immature eggs are then excreted within the cats’ faeces (sporozoites)
  4. Cats will normally only excrete these immature eggs for around two-weeks before they build up an immune defence that stops the production
  5. The immature T. gondii eggs (sporozoites) are then exposed to the environment.
  6. Initially, the eggs that are excreted with the cats’ faeces are not infectious. They must go through a process, known as sporulation, which takes 1–5 days depending on the environment.
  7. After the process of sporulation, the parasitic T. gondii eggs become mature are now infectious (oocysts). From here they can:
  • Become part of the matter within the soil
  • Be ingested by insects, rodents and birds
  1. The cycle then repeats itself, and this is how the T. gondii parasite reproduces and replicates itself, infecting many animals along the way

What are the Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis in Cats?

Infection of T. gondii rarely ever leads to a disease within cats as they quickly build up an immune response. However, if a cat does not develop an immune response, the continuous replication of T. gondii (tachyzoites) can lead to inflammation and nasty signs of disease. Some signs of toxoplasmosis in cats include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy (lack of energy)
  • Inflammatory eye problems
  • Respiratory distress
  • Neurological symptoms (e.g., tremors and seizures)
  • Liver disease (hepatitis) causing jaundice (yellowing of skin and whites of eyes)
  • Vomiting (rare)
  • Diarrhea (rare)

How is Toxoplasmosis in Cats Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of toxoplasmosis in cats can be measured using five pieces of information, although not all of them are always used. These are listed below:

  1. Your cats’ previous medical history
  2. Obvious symptoms and behaviours displayed by your cat
  3. Faecal examination
  4. Clinical, laboratory blood examinations
  5. Tissue sampling

Points 1 and 2 explain themselves, but we will expand upon the latter 3:

  • Fecal examination

This diagnosis method examines the faeces of your cat under a microscope and looks for the presence of T. gondii eggs. While this can be successful, it is usually not thought of as a reliable practice, as the eggs can look similar to other parasitic discharges.

  • Clinical, laboratory blood examinations

The clinical, laboratory blood examinations identify antibody levels in your cat.

What are antibodies? Antibodies are proteins that are used in the immune system to neutralise pathogens (bacteria and viruses)

The two antibodies in question when dealing with toxoplasmosis are: IgG and IgM

High levels of IgG antibodies to T. gondii represents that your cat has been previously infected and is now mostly immune to further infections.

High levels of IgM antibodies to T. gondii represents that your cat is currently infected with toxoplasmosis and has yet to develop an immune response.

In the absence of any antibodies related to T. gondii, this means that your cat has the potential to become infected.

  • Tissue samples

This diagnosis method requires sampling a piece of your cats’ tissue and examining it under the microscope. From here, it will be clear whether or not toxoplasmosis can be diagnosed due to significant changes to the tissues and the presence of masses of T. gondii parasites (tachyzoites)

What are the Treatments for Toxoplasmosis in Cats?

The treatment for toxoplasmosis in cats depends on the severity of the case. Most cases of toxoplasmosis aren’t severe, and the cat will have built up a natural immunity towards the parasite. However, for the more serious conditions:

  • Antibiotic treatment (clindamycin) to combat active forms of the T. gondii parasite
  • Corticosteroids (for inflammation)

These treatments should follow the instructions given to you by your local veterinary expert. Prescribed medication should be administered every day, from the start to the end of the program, even if all symptoms seem to have gone.

T. gondii cannot be completely cleared from the body of the cat, which means that reoccurrence of toxoplasmosis is a possible scenario.

Am I at Risk if My Cat has Toxoplasmosis?

The short answer: Yes.

Toxoplasmosis can infect humans.

Listed below are some preventive measures you should take:

  • Avoid eating uncooked meat (beef, pork and lamb)
  • Empty your cats’ litter tray daily so that there is no type for T. gondii eggs to sporulate and become infectious
  • Place your cats’ litter in a bag that prevents it from spreading while being transported to the bin
  • Wear protective gear, such as gloves, when dealing with your cats’ litter tray
  • Use litter tray liners
  • Frequently sterilise and disinfect your cats’ litter tray
  • High risk groups (ill, elderly, children and pregnant women) should avoid contact with cat litter trays
  • Wear gloves when participating in outdoor activities such as gardening
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly having been outside and in contact with the wild
  • Always wash your hands when participating in cooking activities and dealing with food
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