What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a common disease caused by the parasite toxoplasma gondii, which can infect most warm-blooded animals.

Toxoplasmosis in cats

Cats are the definitive hosts of the parasite, meaning that once they become infected (usually by eating infected prey animals such as rodents and birds), the parasite multiplies in their intestines and eggs are shed in their faeces. These eggs are called oocysts.

Humans and all other animals are intermediate hosts, meaning the parasite can live in their systems but doesn’t reproduce.

Cats most often become carriers of toxoplasmosis by hunting and eating an infected wild animal. However, they can also contract the disease if they come into contact with infected cat waste or eat raw or undercooked meat.

The parasite then multiplies in the cat’s intestines and eggs are shed in their waste for the first two weeks.

Most cats become immune to the disease through exposure to the parasite, however, those who aren’t already immune may experience mild diarrhoea and loss of appetite. The disease can also affect their lungs, liver and nervous system; kittens who have been exposed to the parasite in the womb are the most vulnerable.

If your cat is showing the symptoms of toxoplasmosis, your vet will be able to prescribe antibiotics to help slow down the process of infection. There is currently no absolute cure for toxoplasmosis, but treatment is very effective.

Toxoplasmosis in humans

There is a small chance that you could contract toxoplasmosis through contact with cat waste, but you’re more likely to contract it through unhygienic handling of raw or undercooked meat or drinking contaminated water or even while you are gardening.

Up to half of the world’s population is infected by toxoplasmosis without any symptoms, as most healthy people are immune to the disease. When illness does occur, symptoms include fever, swollen lymph glands, headache, sore throat and muscles aches and pains.

People with a weakened immune system are more at risk of falling seriously ill from the disease. This is because they’re less able to fight off the disease.

People who are more at-risk include:

  • pregnant women
  • those with weakened immune systems 

Preventing toxoplasmosis

There are a number of ways you can prevent toxoplasmosis if you’re pregnant or at a higher risk of infection, you should:

  • use disposable gloves when cleaning out litter trays
  • ensure that litter trays are emptied daily and cleaned regularly with pet-friendly disinfectant
  • cover children’s sandpits to avoid cats using them as a toilet
  • wear gloves while gardening
  • wash your hands before preparing food and before eating
  • wash hands, knives and chopping boards thoroughly after preparing raw meat
  • wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly to get rid of any soil traces
  • avoid eating raw or undercooked meat, while pregnant

For more information about toxoplasmosis, contact your local Medivet practice.

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