Toxoplasmosis in cats is a severe infection caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Toxoplasmosis can infect all warm-blooded species but is most severe in kittens. In this blog post, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment of toxoplasmosis in cats. We hope this information will help you keep your cat healthy and safe!

What is toxoplasmosis in cats and how do they become infected?

Toxoplasmosis in cats is a common and potentially severe parasitic infection. It is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can be found in the environment, in raw or undercooked meat, contaminated soil or water, or through contact with infected animals. Any animal can act as an intermediate host, even people.

Cats can become infected with toxoplasmosis when they ingest cysts from small animals that are already infected with the parasites. Cats can also become infected by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water containing oocysts (eggs) shed by other cats that have been exposed to the parasite.

Toxoplasmosis in cats can also be transferred to the kittens from the mother during pregnancy. The parasite can cross the placental membrane and infect the unborn kitten.

Toxoplasmosis symptoms in cats

Clinical disease caused by transplacental transmission of feline distemper is particularly severe in kittens. It is characterized by a range of physical and physiological signs, including low birth weights, weakened kittens, and so-called 'fading kitten syndrome'. Anorexia, lethargy, dyspnea (abnormal breathing), cutaneous lesions (such as nodules and ulcers), lateral recumbency, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea may be present. Reproductive losses are also possible due to abortion, stillbirths, and premature birth of deformed kittens.

Cats suffering from toxoplasmosis may have a variety of clinical signs depending on the organ system that is affected. These can include anorexia (loss of appetite), fever, lethargy (sluggishness or fatigue), and dyspnea (difficulty breathing). Cutaneous lesions such as nodules or ulcers may appear on the skin. Kittens may also adopt a lateral recumbency position (lying down with legs outstretched) due to abdominal pain.

Other symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea may be observed in some cases. Furthermore, reproductive losses can occur in infected mother cats resulting in abortion, stillbirths or premature births involving deformed kittens. Additionally, it is not uncommon to find one or more ocular abnormalities (e.g. uveitis) in conjunction with other systemic signs and symptoms.

In summary, symptoms of toxoplasmosis in cats may include:

  • Anorexia (loss of appetite)
  • Fever
  • Lethargy (sluggishness or fatigue)
  • Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
  • Cutaneous lesions (such as nodules and ulcers)
  • Red, painful eyes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea

How is toxoplasmosis diagnosed in cats?

Toxoplasmosis in cats can be diagnosed by a number of different tests, including serology (testing for antibodies to toxoplasma gondii), polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, and histopathological examination on infected tissues.

Serologic testing is a common method used to diagnose toxoplasmosis in cats. A positive result indicates that the cat has been exposed to toxoplasma gondii, but does not necessarily mean that the cat is currently infected. To accurately diagnose toxoplasmosis in cats, the most reliable method is PCR testing. With this technique, samples from feces, tissues, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and respiratory secretions can be tested.

Treatment for toxoplasmosis in cats

No drug is able to completely clear toxoplasmosis from the body. However, treatment of toxoplasmosis in cats can help reduce clinical signs, mitigate organ damage, and reduce the shedding of oocysts (eggs).

Treatment typically includes the antibiotic clindamycin as this is effective against toxoplasma gondii in cats and is currently the treatment of choice. Treatment duration is usually approximately 4 weeks.

When successful therapy is applied, many cats have seen a dramatic improvement in their clinical signs within 24-48 hours. Full recovery has even been reported with treatment, however, it's important to be aware that myositis may take weeks of consistent care before visible changes can appear - especially concerning neurological and ocular symptoms.

How to prevent toxoplasmosis in cats

Some simple steps can be taken to reduce the risk of toxoplasmosis in cats, including:

  • Keeping cats indoors and preventing their exposure to rodents, birds, and other potential sources of infection.
  • Cleaning cat litter boxes regularly (at least once a day) as oocysts are shed in feline feces.
  • Wearing gloves when gardening or working with soil as toxoplasma gondii oocysts can be present in the soil.
  • Practicing good hygiene – wash hands, utensils, and work surfaces thoroughly after contact with cats, their feces, or anything that may have come into contact with infected materials.
  • Feeding cats a balanced, cooked diet (i.e. not a raw-based diet).

Can the toxoplasmosis parasite from cats infect humans?

Yes, toxoplasmosis can be transmitted from cats to humans. Toxoplasmosis is considered a zoonotic disease - meaning it can be transmitted between animals and humans. The primary route of transmission for toxoplasma gondii in humans is through the ingestion of contaminated food or water, undercooked meat, unwashed food (fruits, vegetables) as well as contact with soil contaminated with cat feces.

It’s important to note that toxoplasmosis is usually only a serious threat to those with weakened immune systems or pregnant women. Healthy individuals are often able to fight off the infection without any long-term health effects. Therefore, it's important for those at risk of toxoplasmosis to take extra precautions.

To avoid getting toxoplasmosis, pregnant women and individuals with weakened immunity should use gloves while gardening; thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables; and consume cooked meat only. Cleaning out litterboxes is best avoided if possible. Changing the litter daily can greatly reduce the chance of exposure since it takes 1-5 days for an oocyst to become infective.

Should pregnant women avoid changing their cat's litterbox?

Yes, pregnant women should avoid changing their cat's litterbox to avoid toxoplasmosis infection. Pregnant women should take extra precautions when handling the litter box, wear gloves, and wash their hands thoroughly after contact with the litter tray or anything that has come into contact with it.

As it takes a few days for the toxoplasma oocytes to become infective in the stool, daily cleaning of the litter box can be effective in reducing the potential of transfer to people.

Toxoplasmosis in cats is a serious disease caused by the toxoplasma gondii protozoan. It can cause a wide range of clinical signs, depending on the organ system that is affected, and can result in reproductive losses in infected mother cats. Treatment typically includes the antibiotic clindamycin, but there is no drug that can completely clear toxoplasmosis from the body. Prevention tips include keeping cats indoors, cleaning cat litter boxes regularly, wearing gloves when gardening or working with soil, and feeding cats a balanced diet. As toxoplasma can spread to people, it is important to take appropriate precautions to protect yourself and your family from infection. If you have any further questions about toxoplasmosis in cats, please contact your veterinarian.