Toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, has been scaring pregnant women and families for years—and cats have a bad reputation of being the source! The truth is, despite the feline’s connection to this parasite, family pets are likely not the cause of this disease in human cases. Most commonly, human infection occurs as a result of gardening in contaminated soil or handling raw meat.
Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoa parasite. It is ingested when cats eat another animals' feces or infected intermediate hosts such as rodents and rabbits. Cats then shed the inactive eggs in their stool, where they become active and are consumed by other creatures.
Toxoplasmosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be passed from animals to humans. Humans can become exposed through contact with cat feces, contaminated soil or by the consumption of uncooked infected meat.
Toxoplasmosis can cause congenital defects in human fetuses. The good news is that indoor-only cats will have a very low risk of carrying this parasite and that the eggs are shed in the inactive form in the stool.
The best way to prevent your cat from being infected, and therefore being a risk to your own health, is to have regular fecal examinations performed by your veterinarian. If your cat is indoor-only, his/her risk willbe very low. If your cat is a hunter, he/she should have annual fecal examinations and dewormers. We also recommend monthly Interceptor or Revolution for all cats to prevent both heartworms and intestinal parasites such as roundworms and hookworms.
If you are pregnant and concerned about the parasite, cleaning the litter box daily will prevent the eggs from becoming active. Disposable gloves can also be worn while emptying the litter box.
Do not eat raw or undercooked meat while pregnant. If you are gardening or digging in the soil where an outside cat may have defecated, wear gloves and wash your hands regularly.
Veterinarians are both pet and human health advocates. While talking to your doctor is advised, be aware that your veterinarian is also a great resource for all parasite concerns.
Please talk with your veterinarian about your cat's risks and please do not get rid of your cat just because you are pregnant!
Dr. Michele Drake, veterinarian and owner of The Drake Center for Veterinary Care, has been treating pets in Encinitas for over 20 years. For more information on pet health or to schedule an appointment for your pet, please call The Drake Center at (760) 753-9393 or visit www.thedrakecenter.com.