Toxoplasmosis and Pregnancy
Toxoplasmosis is a zoonotic disease that can transmit from cats to humans. During human pregnancy, toxoplasmosis carries a risk to the unborn baby. A small percentage of infected infants suffer from serious eye or brain damage.
A domestic or wild cat that ingests the single-celled parasite Toxoplasma gondii becomes a host for this parasite. The parasites will reproduce in the cat’s intestine. The parasites shed oocysts that pass with the cat’s feces and can infect humans and other animals through contaminated soil or ingestion of cat feces. The shedding of the infective oocysts can last for one to two weeks. The cat may then be immune to the parasites. The mean age of infection for cats is four years. Male cats seem to be more susceptible.
Dogs may contract Toxoplasmosis by ingesting an infected bird or rodent, or contaminated water or food. Pets that are immune-suppressed or eating raw or partially cooked meat may be at higher risk. In rare cases, the transfusion of infected blood is the cause.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis may be non-specific with healthy dogs and cats not showing any signs of the disease. Kittens may show signs of fever and diarrhea that can lead to death. Signs can include fever, loss of appetite and depression. This disease can affect organ systems, especially the lungs, central nervous system (brain) and eyes. The effects on the respiratory system include fever, cough, and increased respiratory rate and effort. Signs of affecting the central nervous system include depression, head tilt, blindness, seizures and death. Eyes may suffer from uveitis, inflammation of the interior of the eye, with blinking, squinting and light sensitivity. Other signs include ascites, fluid accumulation in the abdomen, jaundice, hepatomegaly, enlarged liver, muscle pain, shifting leg lameness, loss of appetite and weight loss. Cats with respiratory or neurological infections may show severe symptoms and die.
Diagnosis of Toxoplasmosis is by measuring the antibodies to the organism. Veterinarians may conduct other tests such as a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, fecal exam, ocular exam, IgG and IgM antibody testing (titers), ELISA test (antigen test) and chest x-rays.
Treatment of Toxoplasmosis can include administering antibiotics, anticonvulsants for seizures and intravenous fluid. Cats may receive steroid eye drops for ocular problems. Owners need to take precautions with their pet’s food and hygiene. Avoid feeding meat that may be source of parasites, such as pork or game. Freezing food below -15°C for at least twenty days may destroy the parasites. A cat that roams and ingest wild rodents should have a check-up for intestinal parasites every six months. A clean litter box and proper hygiene will offer some protection. Pregnant women should not clean the cat’s litter box, but ask someone else to handle the litter to avoid infecting the unborn child.
Pet owners can offer good home care. Feeding dry, canned or cooked food will reduce the chances of contracting. Trash containers should not contain rodents or birds that could tempt the pet to ingest the parasites.