A cat can be quite a lovely creature with their lithe grace, silky fur, purrs and playful antics. They even have us trained to provide a litter box for them so they can tend to their ‘bathroom’ needs. Who can’t help but become friends with a cat?
Many people love cats aka ‘crazy cat’ lady or man. Cats do provide us an outlet to express our love and they are a source of comfort and lift our Spirits with their playful and silly antics.
Disease in our Cat
Unfortunately, they can also be a source of a disease known as taxoplasma infection aka taxoplasmosis. Now, what does a cat have to do with infections?
Infections in our cat arises from contact with a germ and those germs can thrive in various environments, wet, cold, hot, dry. As long as they have their needs met, such as, food, water and shelter they will thrive and our own bodies provide a perfect environment. It seems our own bodies can betray us, don’t it? But we are own keeper, responsible for our own bodies.
the Guilty one – cell Germ
Toxoplasmosis begins with the germ, ‘Toxoplasma gondii‘, a sporozoan parasite, and is borne out of infected meats such as mutton, venison, pork, goat meat but also when in contact with cat feces. Careful handling and cleaning a cat’s litter box is important since we are not always aware if the cat is infected.
A cat becomes a carrier if it eats an infected mouse or rat. Studies have found infected rodents are not afraid of cats and will seek them out by scent. This is due to how it changes the behaviors of cells in the brain, ‘dendritic cells‘ secrete ‘GABA’ergic secretions which inhibits fear and anxiety.
Types of Infection for Cats and Humans
The types of infection depends on how it was acquired. Infants born with toxoplasmosis are considered as having the ‘congenital‘ form which affects the central nervous system and may cause blindness, brain defects, or death.
The ‘acquired‘ form falls into two categories, ‘lymphadenopathic‘ which resembles mononucleosis and the second version, ‘disseminated‘, which causes lesions to appear on the lungs, liver, heart, muscle, skin, brain and meninges.
- Congenital – present at, or existing at birth
- lymphadenopathic, enlarged lymph nodes
- disseminated, scattered, or distributed over a considerable area
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia & Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing & Allied Health
Research studies of changes in a ‘host‘ have found, that people with various psychiatric disorders, are found to be infected with toxoplasmosis. There is evidence infection may be found in people who are extroverted or exhibit risk taking and aggressive behaviors.
Rate of Infection and Symptoms
Analysis of records suggest that up to 30% -50% of the global population may be infected, with 60M infected in the US (CDC). Humans have lived with this parasite for a long time.
Initial infection may cause ‘flu‘ like symptoms and then disappear into a ‘dormant’ phase and depends upon the strength of one’s immune system. It can be fatal for those with weaker immune systems (HIV/AIDS) or the unborn fetus.
Inflammation of the choriod and retina aka ‘chorioretinitis‘ eventually occurs in the congenital or chronic form with symptoms of pain, light sensitivity, blurred vision, black spots.
Diagnosis of toxoplasmosis is difficult and expensive. Bloodwork is drawn and stored for comparison purposes. Biopsy’s of cysts, and swollen lymphs may also provide visual changes.
Treatment and Therapy for Cat and Owners
Humans ; Treatment is effective with a combination of drug treaments and Folinic acid (a derivative of folic acid used to treat folic acid deficiency)with the following;
- Pyrimethamine (Daraprim), and sulfadiazine or triple sulfonamides for a total of thirty days and reserved for those with weak immune systems.
Newer drugs are proving effective and may also, be additionally used. Inflammation of the eyes may be treated with corticosteroid, anti-parisitic or antibiotic drugs, dark glasses, and may include laser surgery to remove lesions.
Prevention of this disease, is done with emphasis on avoid eating raw meat, that may contain ‘cysts’, avoiding contact with cat feces, and ensure visits to your Veterinarian for your cat. Best practices when handling raw meat, do not cross-contaminate your knives and other utensils in the kitchen, or with other foods or liquids.
Use disposable gloves, face mask and disinfectant, when cleaning the cat’s litter box. Make sure to wash the area where the litter box is placed too.
Cats ; A Veterinarian specializes in caring for animals and will treat your cat. Like humans, blood work must be done first to verify the presence of the t. gondii germ. Cats will normally develop an immunity after their initial infection and shed germs for approximately 24 days. They can still get infected from eating raw meat with tissue cysts (bradizoites stage) or passed from mother to kitten while pregnant for both felines and humans.
Adult cats immune systems are strong enough to overcome the infection but not kittens. They will have symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, coughing, difficulty breathing, sneezing, and runny nose. Severe illness in cats will have seizures, uncoordinated gait, leading to death. They can be treated with antibiotics, anti-convulsants and if weakened by the infection, they will remain at the Vet’s office for fluids and intravenous feeding.
Life of t. Gondii germ
The stages of the Toxoplasma gondii germ are as follows;
- Tachyzoites, fast growing stage, able to cross Placental barrier both pregnant felines and humans.
- Bradyzoites, tissue cyst form, cause damage to organs and tissues, hard to remove
- Sporozoites, in oocytes stage, immature form
Absolute care must be taken when handling raw meat and importance of not cross- contaminating other dishware and work areas with used knives or cleaver. This germ can be cleared with the following steps;
- Soap and water does kill these germs so do ensure washing your hands, work surface and utensils.
- Cook meat at 153 degrees Fahrenheit (67 degrees Celsius) – thoroughly.
- Freeze meat at 9 degrees Farhenheit ( – 13 degrees Celsius)
- Avoid tasting food while cooking
Another method found to kill this t. Gondii germ is with gamma radiation. I’m not sure where ordinary folks would find that but good to know?
Feeding your Feline
Owners of cats, me included, may love the ‘routine’ their cat sets in regards to meals. I wake in the mornings and get immediately met with yowling, purrs and body rubs from my cat, and he walks me to the kitchen straight to his bowl. Yes, cats do develop a personality.
Food for your cat should consist of canned, dry cat kibble or cooked food. Cleaning of the litter box should have you wearing a disposable mask and gloves. Wash the litter box with disinfectant and I go an extra mile, spritz rooms with disinfectant spray plus turn on the HVAC air exchanger. It’s good practice to have good hygiene habits.
Learning in Motion
Further Learning Resources
The history of Toxoplasma gondii–the first 100 years
Garden veggies and poopy parasites
Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
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