Firstly, we would like to say, if you are pregnant please do not think that you have to surrender your cat/kitten. We have seen and heard of so many felines being surrendered because their owner is expecting a baby. Please remember you have more chance of catching Toxoplasmosis from eating raw or undercooked meat than you have from a cat.
Toxoplasmosis is not found in the faeces of a cat in the first 24 hours of it being passed from the body, therefore, it is in your own interest to keep the litter trays clean at all times. Please read the following information about Toxoplasmosis and if you have any concerns please either contact your vet, or you are more than welcome to get in touch with us and we will try and advise you.
What is Toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a microscopic parasite (Toxoplasma Gondii). A parasite is any organism that depends on another organism to survive. Many illnesses are caused by parasites.
Toxoplasmosis was first discovered in 1908. Then in 1969 it was discovered that Toxoplasma was actually a close relative of Eimeria (a coccidian genus – commonly the cause of coccidiosis in poultry). Toxoplasma gondii, being a protozoan, is a small organism that lives inside the cells of the host animal or person. Since its discovery it has been found in virtually all warm-blooded animals including most pets, livestock and human beings.
How do we catch Toxoplasmosis?
The most common source of infection is undercooked meat (particularly pork, lamb and venison). The parasite can also be found in soil which has been contaminated by animal faeces. It is also found in cats, dogs, reptiles and livestock and from vegetables, salad and fruit that have not been washed properly.
Most of the time people with Toxoplasmosis will not show any clinical signs. It is said that in America and Europe approximately 35% of people will have had Toxoplasmosis and in poverty stricken countries this is a significant rise up to approximately 65%.
Once you have had Toxoplasmosis, the body develops immunity and new exposure, especially during pregnancy is not an issue.
What are the Symptoms?
Usually there are no symptoms noticed when Toxoplasmosis is present. However, if your immune system is weakened either through pregnancy, aids, cancer or other diseases your body is less able to fight the disease and it could affect, eyes, lungs, brain and other parts of the body.
Mild cases show as flu-like symptoms with swollen glands, high temperature and general ill health, these symptoms can last up to a couple of weeks
Toxoplasmosis in Pregnancy
It is not known how many women catch Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy but research suggests about 1400 cases are presented in the UK each year.
Catching Toxoplasmosis whilst pregnant is a very serious matter as it can lead to infection of the unborn infant and cause congenital toxoplasmosis.
Please remember that you are not at risk from your cat alone but from various other sources as mentioned above. There is NO RISK in just stroking your cat and during these stressful times it may help to have a feline friend on your lap.
There is a blood test available which can indicate whether you are more susceptible to infection. In France all pregnant women are screened at the beginning of their pregnancy this has not been the case in the UK as the risk of infection is low.
What are the risks to my baby?
In only about 30% of women who catch Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, the infection passes through to the unborn foetus. The greatest time that you are at risk is in the third trimester whereas if caught in early pregnancy the chances of any problems are approximately 15%.
Infection may lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, growth problems, blindness, epilepsy, deafness and problems with the brain. Most of these develop after birth.
If a test shows that a pregnant woman has contracted the disease she should be advised by her Dr to go for an ultrasound to look for any problems with the foetus. At approximately 21 weeks she may be offered a Cordocentesis, this is where they will take some blood from the umbilical cord to test if any harm has come to the foetus.
Cats and Toxoplasmosis!!
If I keep my cat in how can it get Toxoplasmosis? – This is a very common question, the main source for a cat to come into contact with the disease is through contaminated food or eating mice.
Toxoplasmosis has a very complex life cycle. When a cat is exposed it can eventually excrete millions of Toxoplasma Oocysts (tiny eggs) in its faeces each day. This can last for over 2 weeks. These Oocysts will not cause infection in a new host until they’ve had time to mature (sporulate) into the infective stage. This takes one to five days depending on environmental conditions. This is one reason why it’s recommended to remove stools from the litter box on a daily basis before sporulation can occur. Cats do not show any clinical signs of illness apart from maybe the odd diarrhoea, so it is hard to tell when the disease is being past in the faeces . Most adult cats will not pass Oocysts every year.
Evidence of the disease in the faeces is diagnostic but rare to achieve. False negative results are common. It may be better to assume that disease may occur in your cat and take preventative measures to safeguard your families health.
How can I help prevent my cat from getting infected?
Keep them indoors and do not allow them to hunt for mice and birds. Also remember only feed cooked or processed food.
At present there is no vaccine for toxoplasmosis in cats.
Most importantly – KEEP LITTER TRAYS CLEAN ON A DAILY BASIS!!!!
How can I avoid catching Toxoplasmosis?
- Toxoplasmosis can be serious but this is only a small percent. Please follow some of the guidelines set below to help avoid this disease:-
- Eat only well cooked meat
- Cook Meat thoroughly until the internal temperature reaches 152F (66C). Microwaving is not a safe way to kill Toxoplasmosis.
- Wash your hands, work surfaces and utensils after preparing raw meat or fruit and veg.
- Wash all fruit and veg thoroughly.
- Avoid un-pasteurized Goats Milk and Cheese
- Always use gloves when gardening
- Change litter trays on a daily basis before any Oocysts can become infectious. If Pregnant, please try and get someone else to change the tray for you, if there is no one please wear rubber gloves. Dispose of the litter safely in a sealed bag. Disinfect trays on a daily basis
- Boil water from streams or pond if out camping.
- Cover Sand Boxes when not in use.
- Do not allow cats on work surfaces and remember only feed commercial cat food.
- If farming please avoid pregnant sheep at lambing time.
NB – Toxoplasma in meat can be killed by cooking at 152ºF (66ºC) or higher or freezing for a day in a household freezer. Of all the infected animals tested, only cats are the perfect hosts for the production of the infectious and resistant Toxoplasma oocysts. The oocysts, released from the intestine of cats in their faeces, is very hardy and can survive sleet, freezing, and even several months of extreme heat and dehydration. Moreover, oocysts can be carried long distances by wind and water. Thus the threat of toxoplasmosis can be greatly reduced when Toxoplasma oocysts are destroyed.
Try not to worry excessively or become paranoid about this – if you take these precautions, chance of infection is practically eliminated, so you don’t need to run off to the nearest rescue with your cat, just curl up and give her a cuddle, she is probably feeling left out at the moment.