Toxoplasmosis, or T. gondii, is a parasite that lives all over North America and is a threat not only to cats, but to people. Cats can contract toxoplasmosis from undercooked food (especially pork), eating infected birds or rodents, contact with soil containing infected bird or rodent droppings, and in utero or through their mother's milk.
Toxoplasmosis infects as many as 30% of cats, and perhaps as many as 50% of people at some time in their lives. Fortunately, most T. gondii infections pass without any symptoms.
Unfortunately, in cats or people with compromised immune systems, the parasite can be fatal. Pregnant women should be especially careful not to contract toxoplasmosis because they can pass it to their fetuses in utero, or to their newborn babies through their milk. Toxoplasmosis can cause severe symptoms such as miscarriages, and birth defects.
Since T. gondii live in cat intestines and pass through cat feces, this means pregnant women should avoid litter boxes and other places where cat feces may be present (for example, digging in the garden).
Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis
Frequently T. gondii will pass without any discernible symptoms, but in cats with compromised immune systems it can cause:
- Anorexia (decreased interest in food)
- Inflammation of the eye
- Difficulty walking
- Muscle atrophy
- Heart arrhythmia
Cats with severe symptoms should be examined closely for immune compromising infections such as feline leukemia (FeLV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
Toxoplasmosis is often treated with medications such as:
Treatment is often successful for cats with healthy immune systems and improvement is typically seen in 2-3 days. Cats with severely compromised immune systems are less likely to recover.
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