Toxoplasmosis in Cats: Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that can infect cats and damage their health. The most common way for cats to become infected is by eating infected rodents, birds, or other small animals. An infected cat can then spread the parasite to humans through its feces.
If left untreated, toxoplasmosis can become quite serious and even life-threatening for cats. Diagnosing toxoplasmosis typically involves blood tests to check for antibodies against the Toxoplasma parasite, along with other tests like fecal exams or ultrasounds if needed.
The good news is toxoplasmosis in cats can usually be successfully treated. A course of antibiotics, such as clindamycin, azithromycin, or sulfadiazine, is commonly prescribed to eliminate the parasite. Cats with severe or chronic infections may require hospitalization and intravenous fluids during treatment.
Preventing re-infection is also important. Be sure to thoroughly clean your cat’s litter box daily, wear gloves when changing litter, and keep cats indoors to avoid hunting and eating infected prey.
With prompt diagnosis and proper treatment, the prognosis for cats with toxoplasmosis is typically good. However, some cats may require lifelong medication or suffer permanent damage to organs like the eyes. But with attentive care and management, infected cats can live happily and healthily for many years.
Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis in Cats
If your cat is acting lethargic, not eating, or has diarrhea, it could be a sign of toxoplasmosis. This parasitic infection is caused by Toxoplasma gondii, a microscopic parasite that can infect cats and spread to humans.
Symptoms in Cats
The most common symptoms of toxoplasmosis in cats include:
- Loss of appetite or not eating: If your cat stops eating for more than a day or so, it could indicate a toxoplasmosis infection.
- Lethargy or weakness: Toxoplasmosis can make cats feel extremely tired, weak or even collapse. Your cat may not want to play or exercise.
- Diarrhea: Diarrhea that lasts more than a couple of days can lead to dehydration and malnutrition in cats. See your vet right away if your cat has uncontrolled diarrhea.
- Difficulty breathing: In severe cases, toxoplasmosis may cause fluid buildup in the lungs making it hard for your cat to breathe properly. This is a medical emergency.
- Eye inflammation: Toxoplasmosis can lead to eye infections, redness, and discharge in some cats. See your vet promptly if your cat’s eyes become inflamed.
The only way to confirm a diagnosis of toxoplasmosis is through a blood test. Your vet can check for the presence of T. gondii antibodies, which indicate exposure to the parasite. If caught early, toxoplasmosis can usually be treated successfully with a course of antiparasitic drugs. With prompt diagnosis and treatment, most cats will recover fully from toxoplasmosis.
Diagnosing Toxoplasmosis in Cats
To properly diagnose toxoplasmosis in cats, your vet will need to run a few tests. The most common are:
1. Blood Test
A blood test can check for toxoplasmosis antibodies, which are proteins produced by your cat’s immune system in response to the infection. High antibody levels often mean an active infection. Two types of blood tests are commonly used:
- ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test: This detects antibodies and is often used as an initial screening. Positive results should be confirmed with a Western blot test.
- Western blot: This is more sensitive and can confirm if ELISA results are due to toxoplasmosis infection. It may also help determine if the infection is acute or chronic.
2. PCR Test
A polymerase chain reaction or PCR test detects toxoplasmosis DNA in blood, feces, or other tissue samples. This can confirm an active infection, even before antibodies develop. PCR testing may be needed if blood test results are inconclusive or if your cat is immunocompromised.
Radiographs (x-rays), ultrasounds, or MRIs are sometimes used to check for organ inflammation or damage in cats with symptoms. These imaging tools can also monitor the progression or improvement of the disease during treatment.
4. Clinical Signs
Your vet will evaluate your cat for common symptoms of toxoplasmosis like lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, pneumonia, or diarrhea. The presence or absence of symptoms, along with blood test results, will help determine if the infection is acute or chronic and guide the course of treatment.
Early diagnosis and treatment of toxoplasmosis is critical, especially for young, old or immunocompromised cats. With the right combination of tests, your vet can get to the bottom of your cat’s condition and develop an effective treatment plan.
Treatment Options for Toxoplasmosis in Cats
Once toxoplasmosis has been diagnosed in your cat, the vet will determine the best course of treatment based on the severity of symptoms and overall health. There are a few options available to help eliminate the infection and support your cat’s recovery.
1. Antibiotic Therapy
The most common way to treat toxoplasmosis is with a course of antibiotics, such as clindamycin, azithromycin, or sulfadiazine. These drugs work by destroying the Toxoplasma gondii parasites in your cat’s tissues and organs. A typical course of treatment will last 4 to 6 weeks to fully clear the infection. Your vet will prescribe antibiotics in pill or liquid form to be given orally on a daily basis. Be sure to give the full course as prescribed to avoid relapse.
2. Supportive Care
In addition to antibiotics, your vet may recommend supportive care to help your cat recover. This could include:
- Fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Nutritional supplements to maintain appetite and energy.
- Anti-nausea medication if your cat is vomiting or has diarrhea.
- Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
- Hospitalization in severe cases until stabilized.
3. Follow-up Testing
Your vet will likely want to retest your cat after treatment to confirm the toxoplasmosis infection has been eliminated. A blood test can check for toxoplasmosis antibodies and a stool sample may be tested for parasite oocysts. If tests are positive, another round of treatment may be required. It’s important to retest, as relapses can occur even with proper treatment.
Getting the right diagnosis and treatment for toxoplasmosis is critical to your cat’s health. With antibiotic therapy, supportive care, and follow-up testing, the vast majority of cats will make a full recovery from this infection. But lifelong monitoring may be needed to ensure it does not return. By working closely with your vet, you can get your feline companion back to full health.
How did my cat get infected?
Your cat likely ingested the parasite Toxoplasma gondii by eating infected raw meat, rodents, or bird droppings. Cats can also become infected if they eat food or water contaminated with T. gondii eggs shed in the feces of other cats. Kittens and outdoor cats are at highest risk.
Can toxoplasmosis be cured?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment that can eliminate T. gondii infection from a cat’s body. However, anti-parasitic medications like clindamycin and sulfadiazine can be used to suppress the infection during an acute flare-up of symptoms. Treatment may need to be lifelong in some cats to keep symptoms in remission.
Is toxoplasmosis contagious to humans?
Yes, toxoplasmosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can spread between animals and people. Humans can become infected by accidentally ingesting T. gondii eggs shed in an infected cat’s feces through contact with contaminated soil, water, or surfaces. Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are at highest risk of serious complications from toxoplasmosis.