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Health & Wellness

Outdoor cats might be at a higher risk of catching toxoplasmosis

Cat feces can expose pet parents to toxoplasmosis, too.

Outdoor cats roam freely, climb trees and choose when it’s time to come inside. But all that freedom can put pets at risk of catching parasitic infections. 

Toxoplasmosis, for one, is a contagious parasitic infection that can affect all cats — but our outdoor feline friends are the most exposed.

Because toxoplasmosis is such a tricky disease to spot, you’ll want to follow our vet-approved tips for identifying when your cat has it so you can help them heal while preventing it from spreading to others in your home.

What’s toxoplasmosis in cats? 

As natural hunters, cats can catch toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection caused by Toxoplasma gondii, by eating an infected rodent, Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff veterinarian, says. 

“Pet parents shouldn’t allow cats to eat prey, such as rodents or birds, as they could be carriers of toxoplasma,” she adds. “There’s also a risk of infection through feeding a raw diet to cats.” 

Toxoplasmosis symptoms in cats

Depending on your cat, you may never know they have toxoplasmosis, as healthy pets often don’t show symptoms, Dr. McCullough shares. Once your cat catches the infection, their immune system will attack the parasite, which will then turn it into a cyst that can remain dormant in their body.

Young, old, pregnant and immunocompromised cats are usually the pets that show symptoms. If your pet’s symptomatic, look for common signs like decreased appetite, lethargy, difficulty breathing, skin lesions, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, incoordination, weakness and paralysis. 

Sometimes toxoplasmosis can lead to eye infections and injuries, she adds.

If your cat is struggling with any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian for support — that's the best way to go about identifying this condition and helping your pet feel better.

Is toxoplasmosis contagious to other pets?

Toxoplasmosis is contagious to other animals through exposure to infected stool, contaminated water, dirt or food, Dr. McCullough says.

Because healthy cats rarely show toxoplasmosis symptoms, it’s imperative to clean their litter box daily. It takes between 1 to 5 days for the parasites’ eggs to hatch and become contagious, so washing their bathroom area can help prevent it from spreading to other pets (or people).  

Even though toxoplasmosis is contagious, infected cats don’t necessarily need to be quarantined, she adds.

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Can you get toxoplasmosis by breathing in cat litter? 

Unfortunately, pet parents are susceptible to catching toxoplasmosis when cleaning a sick cat’s litter box. For example, if you touch infected stool and then cook without washing your hands, you’re likely to catch the infection, Dr. McCullough says.

But your cat isn’t always to blame. People are at risk for catching toxoplasmosis when playing in contaminated sandboxes or soil, eating undercooked meat and consuming contaminated and dirty vegetables and fruits, she adds. 

Treatment options for toxoplasmosis in cats

A physical examination, blood work and special testing, like a PCR test, are necessary for veterinarians to determine if a cat has toxoplasmosis. A positive result often calls for antibiotics or antiprotozoal medications as treatment options.

“Unfortunately, no medication can completely eliminate the parasite from the body because Toxoplasma can encyst themselves in various body tissues,” Dr. McCullough explains. “These tissue cysts prevent complete parasite elimination.”

Healthy cats will get better with treatment (even though the parasite might live dormant in your pet’s body for their life). However, if your feline friend shows continual symptoms or is young, old, pregnant or immunocompromised, you’ll want to ask your veterinarian ways to prevent a relapse. 

How to prevent toxoplasmosis in cats

Talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s lifestyle and how you can prevent this condition from happening. Dr. McCullough shares that some of the most common ways of fending off the infection are feeding cats commercial, cooked foods, avoiding undercooked meats (including dead rodents) and keeping them away from livestock or food storage areas. 

The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo.

Photo by Knopka Ivy on Unsplash

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