Toxoplasmosis is something that pregnant cat owners may hear about. This disease can cause birth defects and premature labor. Toxoplasmosis is also the leading cause of death due to foodborne illness according to the Center for Disease Control. It's unlikely you'll get toxoplasmosis from indoor kitties.
What Is Toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. It exists throughout the world, and humans and animals carry it. About 60 million people in the United States alone carry the parasite. People can become infected by the toxoplasma parasite by eating undercooked meats, undergoing blood transfusions or organ transplants, and not practicing proper sanitary habits such as hand-washing before eating after handling contaminated soil and cleaning cat litter boxes.
Toxoplasmosis and Cats
Cats are definitive carriers of the toxoplasma parasite, meaning the parasite can produce eggs (called oocysts) only when it infects a cat. The parasite infects a cat when the cat eats infected prey or infected raw meat. If the cat has never ingested the parasite, the parasite begins producing oocysts three to 10 days after ingestion. When your cat poops, he'll excrete these oocysts in the poop for 10 to 14 days. Once out of the cat's body, the oocysts take one to five days to become infective. Other animals are intermediate hosts -- they don't shed oocysts but do carry the parasite in their systems. Instead, infected animals will produce cysts in their tissues; if an animal eats the tissue raw, it will become a toxoplasmosis carrier.
Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis in Cats
Most cats do not exhibit signs of toxoplasmosis infection. Those that do may exhibit their compromised immune systems with fever, lethargy and lack of appetite. Some cats get pneumonia, other cats' eyesight or nervous system are affected. In rare instances, your cat can suffer blindness, light sensitivity, seizures, personality changes, difficulty eating, unable to control bladder and bowel functions, walking in circles, lack of coordination and other symptoms that might indicate an affected nervous system.
Indoor Cats and Toxoplasmosis
Indoors-only cats are unlikely to be infected with toxoplasmosis unless they eat raw meat diets or your cat eats a rodent. If your cat is infected with toxoplasmosis, it is a limited disease. It occurs only once in a cat's life; within a month, your cat will stop shedding oocysts. Even so, the poop won't be infective until one to five days after the cat defecates -- so removing the feces from the litter box in less than 24 hours makes it unlikely anyone will become infected.
Risk of Getting Toxoplasmosis From My Cat
As scary as toxoplasmosis can be, you've got a better-than-1-in-4 chance of already carrying it without knowing it through eating undercooked meat, handling dirt and not washing your hands, or maybe through handling cat poop. When it happened, you probably felt flulike symptoms. Once infected, you can't get it again. If your cat has been infected before, he can't be infected again, and thereby can't infect you. Assuming you and your cat haven't been infected, your indoor cat has to be exposed to it in order to produce oocysts. Assuming that happens, the oocysts shed two for weeks. During those two weeks, the poop has to sit in the litter box longer than a day before the toxoplasmosis comes alive. If you're pregnant, wear gloves and scoop the litter daily. Or better yet, get your significant other to do it.