Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a microscopic parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. The infection is very common— a third of the world’s population is infected without knowing, although the actual disease is rare. Most infections cause no harm and show no symptoms, unless the immune system is not working properly, like for patients with HIV, AIDS or cancer. In this case the disease can be activated.
There is a particular threat to pregnant women because they can transmit it to their unborn babies, which can lead to miscarriage or malformation of the baby. But the threat only exists if they get infected while they are pregnant— if they had the infection before getting pregnant, they have nothing to worry about.
Because of this concern, there has been misinformation regarding the role of cats and toxoplasmosis, which has made pregnant women get rid of their cats not to get sick. This is a myth that has led to the cruel abandonment of so many cats the moment there’s a pregnancy in the family.
We are here to debunk that myth and give some true facts regarding toxoplasmosis hoping no cat will ever be abandoned again.
READ MORE: 10 COMMON CAT MYTHS THAT ARE TOTALLY WRONG
Fact 1: Cats aren’t the only ones infected and capable of transmitting toxoplasmosis.
Many birds and mammals have the parasite, but only inside a cat’s intestines is it capable of reproducing. So, even though cats may not be the only animals that can transmit it, they are the only ones capable of shedding its infectious stage in their feces. Once they release the eggs into the soil, they can be picked up by other animals that feed from the ground. Maybe because the parasite only completes its life cycle in the intestinal track of the cat, is why the myth was born.
Fact 2: Not every cat has the risk to become infected with toxoplasmosis.
Only cats that ingest tissue cysts get infected. This is limited to cats who hunt and eat rodents or birds (if the rodents or birds ate from a contaminated soil), and to cats that eat raw or undercooked contaminated meat. If your cat is 100% an indoor cat and you don’t feed him/her raw meat, you have nothing to worry about.
Fact 3: The chances of your cat transmitting you toxoplasmosis is very low.
People do get infected by ingesting toxoplasma eggs (oocysts), which are only generated in cats’ intestines and then passed out in the cat’s feces. But a cat that has been infected with toxoplasmosis usually becomes immune and it is very rare that it will ever get infected again. They will only excrete potentially infective oocysts when he is first exposed to T. Gondii. Besides this, the oocysts don’t become infective immediately— they require an incubation period of 1 to 5 days. What this means is that you will need to be exposed to cat’s infected feces and then somehow ingest the eggs. But if you wash your hands after cleaning the litter box, after gardening and before eating, the risks of getting it from your cat is really low.
Fact 4: Petting your cat or getting scratched or bitten by him won’t give toxoplasmosis.
Even if the cat is infected with toxoplasmosis, you will only get it if you ingest the parasite’s eggs, which don’t live in the cat’s fur or blood. Cats groom themselves constantly, so even if an egg found on his feces or in contaminated soil would happen to attach to your cat’s fur, he will groom himself way before the egg becomes infective.
Fact 5: There are other things that can pass toxoplasmosis onto people.
Eating raw or undercooked meat is one of the main causes, since it can contain T. Gondii with tissue cysts. It is actually more likely that people get infected through eating undercooked meat than from handling cat’s feces. Other risks can be through eating unwashed fruits or vegetables, through gardening and by accidentally swallowing contaminated soil.
Fact 6: There are ways to prevent getting toxoplasmosis (whether you have cats or not.)
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat.
- Do not drink unpasteurized milk
- Wash all raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Wash all utensils and cutting boards that were in contact with meat before using them.
- Wash hands and surfaces where you handle raw meat with warm soapy water.