Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate parasite, belonging to the family of protozoa that infect human tissues, is responsible for causing Toxoplasmosis in most warm blooded animals, specifically felines such as cats, dogs, lambs, small animals, birds and also humans. It is mostly the cats who transfer the infection to the humans but it is also transmitted by infected meat of animals such as pigs and cattle and also from infected milk of goat. This is because Toxoplasma gondii completes the most important reproductive phase of its life in cats.
Toxoplasmosis in animals do not usually show any signs of infection. Animals get this disease by the intake of food contaminated with the parasite. But how does this happen? Let us discuss about cats and toxoplasmosis.
Toxoplasmosis in cats
Cats act as the primary host of the parasite. They get infected by eating infected rodents, birds etc. Cats infected with toxoplasmosis excrete the parasitic oocysts in their feces. These oocysts can face the environmental hardships and are infectious after 5 to 7 days. These active oocysts can then infect other species such as birds, small rodents and mice. They are quite resistant and remain infective and harmful for about a year. The cat then either eats these animals or comes in contact with them and so the parasite completes its life cycle by re-infecting a cat.
Toxoplasmosis in cats is often asymptomatic. It can, however, cause complications in the cats that are immunocompromised specially the ones suffering from feline leukaemia virus (FELV) or other immuno deficiency diseases such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). It is then the parasite gets a chance to carry on with its life cycle. Toxoplasmosis in cats shows the following symptoms which are quite similar to the symptoms that are present in humans:
- Loss of appetite
- Inflamed eyes
- Mental retardation
- Other symptoms include loss of control, pneumonia, excess urination etc.
Toxoplasmosis in cats can be diagnosed and treated in order to get rid of this contagious infection. The diagnosis is made by a blood test. A stool test is not reliable because oocysts of Toxoplasma gondii and some other parasites look alike.
Toxoplasmosis in sheep also shows no symptoms. The matter gets complicated when a pregnant sheep gets infected by this parasite and the result is either transmission of the infection or in worst cases, fetal death.
Toxoplasmosis in sheep and dogs are not a threat because they do not transmit it to others but meat of these farm animals if eaten undercooked can cause toxoplasmosis in humans. Toxoplasmosis in cats is the main mode of transmission of Toxoplasmosis gondii.
Prevention of Toxoplasmosis in animals:
When we talk about preventions of toxoplasmosis in animals, what we are actually talking about is how to keep our animals whether it is a cat, a dog or a sheep, away from the oocysts of the parasite. The first thing you should do is take care of your pet’s diet. Do not feed them raw meat or un-pasteurized milk. Giving them canned food is preferred.
Clean your pet’s litter on a regular basis. Make sure you are wearing gloves and a mask while you do this in order to ensure there is no contact between you and the litter. Wash your hands properly after you are done. If you have a dog, keep an eye on it so that it does not eat cat’s feces. To be on the safe side, do not let your pet roam outside the house. Rodent control is important because mice and rats are also one of the intermediate hosts of Toxoplasma gondii and infected mice can transmit toxoplasmosis to animals.