Toxoplasmosis can be a serious medical condition for both humans and their feline companions. If you are planning on becoming pregnant and you are a cat parent, you might want to check out the list of aspects highlighted below. Most people know that toxoplasmosis can be dangerous for pregnant women, and many times, they will try to get rid of their cats because of this.
Fortunately, there are ways of preventing the infection, and there are tests that can be performed to determine whether your fluffy friend might pose a threat to your pregnancy because of this parasite. Let’s look at some information that you ought to be aware of if you want to make sure that both your family and your pet are healthy and happy.
What is toxoplasmosis?
We should start with the definition before anything because it is the only way you might be able to understand the way that this parasite can be transmitted. The infection is caused by a microscopic parasite with the name of Toxoplasma gondii. It is estimated that more than sixty million individuals in the United States are carriers of the Toxoplasma parasite, so it is widespread. Infected animals can carry it in their feces.
How does a cat become infected with Toxoplasma gondii?
If you have a cat and he or she likes to spend time outdoors hunting for little rodents, birds, and other types of small animals, the likelihood of the animal being exposed to Toxoplasma is high as all of these critters can be carriers. A cat can also be infected when coming in contact with the feces of another cat that carries Toxoplasma and eliminates the microscopic parasites in this way.
Unfortunately, the parasite is capable of living in the environment for several months or more, and it can contaminate anything from water and soil to fruits and vegetables. Even the grass that your pet might munch on outside can have Toxoplasma gondii on it.
How do humans become infected with Toxoplasma gondii?
There are several ways that people can become infected with the parasite. One of the common ways is by drinking contaminated water or eating food that has come in contact with cat feces. Other animal species such as pigs or lamb can also be carriers of Toxoplasma, so eating undercooked meat from these and wild game can be another way of becoming infected.
Pregnant women transmit Toxoplasma to their unborn children.
How does the disease affect people?
While the disease might affect the mother in an asymptomatic way, especially if she is healthy, Toxoplasma does have a series of negative effects on the unborn fetus. The infants can become affected before birth and could show no symptoms whatsoever even after being born. Nevertheless, those infected will develop medical conditions later on in life, and these include mental disability, seizures, and vision loss.
Even though infected newborns typically show no symptoms, there have been cases where these have been noticeable, and they involve damage to the eyesight and brain.
The other types of people that can be affected by Toxoplasma are individuals with weak immune systems, where the symptoms experienced range from nausea and vomiting to poor coordination, confusion, and fever. On the other hand, even people with healthy immune systems can manifest mild symptoms such as muscle aches and pains that last for a couple of weeks. Because these often go unnoticed on account of them being mistaken for flu symptoms, the person will become a carrier without even knowing it.
Do You Have to Give up Your Cat?
The short answer to this question is no. If you make sure that there is no possible way that your cat might be exposed to the parasite, you do not have to get rid of your feline companion. There are, however, certain preventive measures that you can ensure.
Keep your cat indoors as the likelihood of her becoming infected are significantly lower if she has almost no way of coming in contact with the environment where the parasite might be located. If you are pregnant, you ought to avoid changing cat litter. Simply ask someone else to do it for you. If there’s no way of circumventing this task, wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly after changing the litter.
If you have the habit of feeding your cat food that you prepare in your home, always make sure that the meat has been cooked thoroughly. If possible, change your cat’s diet and start feeding her only commercial canned or dry food.
Do not get a new cat if you are pregnant, especially stray kittens. Since there is no way of you knowing whether the perimeter of your house is parasite-free, perhaps you should avoid gardening. If it is one of your favorite activities, you can still perform it, but you have to make sure that you wear gloves while doing so. Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling soil or sand.
Can Toxoplasmosis Be Treated?
There is medication available both for people who don’t plan on becoming pregnant anytime soon and for women who are infected during pregnancy. Both the mother and the baby have to be monitored closely, especially after the baby is born.
Healthy people who only express mild symptoms might not even require any type of treatment, as long as they are not pregnant. Given the effect that this parasitic infection has on a person’s eyesight, it is recommended that people with eye disease undergo treatment so as to ensure that the condition doesn’t become more severe.
Both your cat and yourself can be tested for toxoplasmosis. Even if this is possible all over the world, routine screening is not recommended in low-risk populations. In Canada, only Nunavik and some parts of northern Quebec have screening programs due to high endemic seroprevalence. Routine screening is not recommended in countries where the incidence is low, including the United States and United Kingdom.
Therefore, it is your responsibility as a cat parent to get your cat tested before becoming pregnant.
It would be cruel for you to get rid of your cat, especially if you have taken the animal to the vet and he or she has performed a blood test and determined that your pet doesn’t carry Toxoplasma. You can enjoy your cat’s companionship and love even if you are pregnant so long as you ensure the preventive measures we have highlighted above.
Keep in mind that, within the cat population, only outdoor cats who hunt rodents and indoor cats who are fed raw meat are exposed to T. gondii. The time span where the cat will excrete oocysts lasts for just under two weeks, so if the animal was exposed to the parasite as a kitten, it is quite unlikely that the adult will transmit the disease to humans.
The cat’s litter box must be cleaned daily, but it is highly recommended that this is done by a person other than the pregnant woman. Always wash your hands thoroughly after coming in contact with your pet’s feces so as to avoid touching your mouth or eyes.