zoonotic diseases

Toxoplasmosis & Cat Owners

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What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a microscopic parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. More than 60 million people in the United States carry the Toxoplasma parasite. Toxoplasmosis can cause severe illness in infants infected before birth (When their mothers are newly infected during pregnancy), or in persons with a weakened immune system.


What role do cats play in the spread of Toxoplasmosis?

Cats get Toxoplasma infection by eating infected birds, rodents, and other small animals, or anything contaminated with feces from another cat that is shedding the microscopic parasite in it's feces. After a cat has been infected, it can shed the parasite for up to two weeks. The parasite becomes infective one to five days after it is passed in the feces of the cat. The parasite can live in the environment for many months and contaminate soil, water, fruits and vegetables, sandboxes, grass where animals graze for food, litter boxes, or any place where an infected cat may have defecated.


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How are people infected with Toxoplasma?

There are several ways in which people may become infected with toxoplasosis.

  • Eating food, drinking water, or accidentially swallowing soil that has been contaminated with infected cat feces (think: homegrown produce that feral cats may have access to!).

  • Eating raw or undercooked meat from animals (especially pigs, lamb, or wild game) that have been infected with Toxoplasma.

  • Directly from a pregnant woman to her unborn child when the mother becomes infected with Toxoplasma just before or during pregnancy.


What are the symptoms of toxoplasmosis?

Individuals with a healthy immune system:

Most people who become infected with Toxoplasma do not know it and have no symptoms. However, when illness occurs, it is usually mild. Some may feel like they have the “flu”, with swollen lymph glands, or muscle aches and pains that last for several weeks or more. Although rare, eye disease may also occur.

Individuals with weakened immune systems:

People with weakened immune systems may experience severe symptoms. The most common symptoms in people with HIV infection are headache, confusion, and fever. Other symptoms include seizures, poor coordination, and nausea or vomiting.

Infants infected before birth:

Most infants infected with Toxoplasma before birth show no symptoms at birth. However, many are likely to develop symptoms later in life. These include vision loss, mental disability, and seizures.


How can I protect myself from toxoplasmosis?

Several steps can be taken to protect yourself and others from toxoplasmosis.

  • Change your cat litter boxes daily. Toxmoplasma takes more than one day to become infectious. If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, ask someone else to change the litter box. If this is not possible, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards.

  • Cover any outdoor sandboxes when not in use to keep cats from defecating in the them.

  • Avoid adopting stray cats, especially kittens, off the streets (go through an agency such as our local Cat Depot to assure a happy & healthy stray). Younger cats are more likely to be releasing Toxoplasma in their feces.

  • Do not eat undercooked meat. Cook meat until the internal temperature reaches 160° Fahrenheit.

  • Wash all kitchen supplies (such as knives and cutting boards) that have been in contact with raw meat.

  • If you have a weakened immune system, it is important to talk to your health care provider about getting a blood test to determine if you have been infected with Toxoplasma.


How can I protect my cat from toxoplasmosis?

Protecting your cat from toxoplasmosis may also help to protect you from toxoplasmosis.

  • Feed your cat commercial dry or canned food.

  • Never feed cats raw meat because this can be a source of Toxoplasma infection.

  • Keep indoor cats indoors so they do not become infected by eating small animals.


Do I have to get rid of my cat?

No, you do not have to give up your cat. Owning a cat does not mean you will be infected with the parasite. It is unlikely that you would be exposed to the parasite by touching the infected cat, because cats usually do not carry the parasite on their fur coat. In addition, cats kept indoors (that do not hunt prey or feed on raw meat) are not likely to be infected with Toxoplasma. But, if you are pregnant, or have a weakened immune system, it is important to protect yourself from infection.


Can toxoplasmosis be treated?

Yes, most certainly. There is treatment for toxoplasmosis. In an otherwise healthy person, mild symptoms typically go away within several weeks to months and treatment is not needed. However, treatment may be recommended for an otherwise healthy person with eye disease due to toxoplasmosis. A woman who becomes infected during pregnancy can be treated with medication that may protect her unborn child from toxoplasmosis. Mother and baby should be monitored closely during the pregnancy and post-birth.


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Lyme Disease? A Pet Owner's Guide

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What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) is an illness that affects both animals and humans (zoonotic disease) and is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Transmitted through tick bites, the disease can be difficult to detect and can cause serious and recurring health problems. Therefore, it is best to prevent infection by taking appropriate measures to prevent tick bites and, for dogs, possibly vaccinating against the disease.

The bacterium that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) is carried and transmitted primarily by the tiny black-legged tick known as the deer tick. Deer ticks are found in forests or grassy, wooded, marshy areas near rivers, lakes or oceans. People or animals may be bitten by deer ticks during outdoor activities such as hiking or camping, or even while spending time in their back yards.

Named after numerous cases were identified in Lyme, Conn., in 1975, the disease has since been reported in humans and animals across the United States and around the world. Within the U.S., it appears primarily in specific areas including the southern New England states; eastern Mid-Atlantic states; the upper Midwest, particularly Wisconsin and Minnesota; and on the West Coast, particularly northern California. The CDC maintains a map detailing confirmed cases of Lyme disease throughout the years.

How to prevent Lyme disease

The best way to protect your pets from Lyme disease is to take preventive measures to reduce the chance of contracting the disease. Even during the last weeks of summer, it's important to remember that pets and people are at greater risk of being infected with Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases such as anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

People with pets should:

  • Use reliable tick-preventive products. Speak with your veterinarian about what tick preventive product is right for your pet.

  • Work with your veterinarian to decide whether to vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease. Your veterinarian’s advice may depend on where you live, your pet's lifestyle and overall health, and other factors.

  • When possible, avoid areas where ticks might be found. These include tall grasses, marshes, and wooded areas.

  • Check for ticks on both yourself and your animals once indoors.

  • Clear shrubbery/bushes next to homes.

  • Keep lawns well maintained.

As noted above, there are preventive Lyme disease vaccines available for dogs, but they aren't necessarily recommended for every dog. Consult your veterinarian to see if the vaccination makes sense for your pets. If your veterinarian does recommend that your dog be vaccinated against Lyme disease, the typical protocol will involve an initial vaccination followed by a booster 2-4 weeks later and annual boosters after that.

Symptoms and treatment of Lyme disease in pets

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Pets infected with Lyme disease may not show any signs for 2-5 months. After that time, typical symptoms include:FeverLoss of appetiteLamenessJoint swellingDecreased activity

Recurrent lameness also is possible, and the involved extremity may be tender. Inflammation of the joint can last from days to weeks and may migrate from one extremity to another.

Horses with Lyme disease can develop lameness, joint pain, neurologic disease, eye problems, and dermatitis.

Symptomatically, Lyme disease can be difficult to distinguish from anaplasmosis because the signs of the diseases are very similar, and they occur in essentially the same areas of the country. Lyme disease is diagnosed through a blood test that shows whether an animal has been exposed to the bacterium.

Antibiotics usually provide effective treatment for Lyme disease. However, it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s advice regarding follow-up care after your pet has been diagnosed with and treated for Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is not communicable from one animal to another, except through tick bites. However, if you have more than one pet and one is diagnosed with Lyme disease, your veterinarian might recommend testing for any other pets who may have been exposed to ticks at the same time. In fact, because people and their pets often can be found together outdoors as well as indoors, a Lyme disease diagnosis in any family member – whether human or non-human – should serve as a flag that all family members might consult their physicians and veterinarians, who can advise about further evaluation or testing.

For more information about Lyme disease in people, The American Academy of Pediatrics has more information.


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