Cats, Toxoplasmosis, and You
In recent months, reports have been circulated that seem to indicate that toxoplasmosis can cause things such as brain tumors, schizophrenia and other brain-related illnesses. Further, these reports would seem to indicate that your pet cat could be a threat to you in terms of passing this disease to you. Let’s take a closer look at these assertions and see how true they really are.
What Is Toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease. It is caused by a protozoan (one-celled) parasite. The cat is the definitive host of the organism that causes toxoplasmosis, meaning that cats are required for the disease to continue. Cats are most commonly infected by ingesting contaminated soil or eating infected prey.
However, pet cats are not the most common source of human toxoplasmosis infections. In fact, you are more likely to become infected with toxoplasmosis through gardening activities or through eating improperly cooked meat or unwashed vegetables.
Toxoplasmosis is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, as the disease has the ability to damage the developing fetus. The disease is most dangerous when a woman is infected for the first time during her pregnancy. Toxoplasmosis is also a risk to individuals who are immunosuppressed, as are many other diseases.
Can Toxoplasmosis Cause Brain Tumors, Schizophrenia or Other Brain Diseases?
Maybe, maybe not. The truth is we really don’t have a definitive answer to that question at this point in time. There have been studies reported in the scientific literature that show a correlation between these conditions and being infected with toxoplasmosis. However, these studies fail to show a direct association between the two.
To date, no studies have demonstrated that toxoplasmosis is a direct cause of any of these diseases in people! Though associations have been made, these associations may well be coincidental and there may be many other correlations as yet unreported. The research on this topic is far from conclusive and much more research needs to be completed before we can reach any solid conclusions.
Furthermore, toxoplasmosis is a preventable disease. By taking some simple precautions, cat owners (and non-cat owners) can protect themselves against infection with this disease.
How to Prevent Infection with Toxoplasmosis
These simple steps can help protect you and your family from toxoplasmosis.
- Cook all meats thoroughly before eating.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
- Wear gloves when gardening or working with soil.
- Practice good hygiene, including washing your hands thoroughly and often. Always wash your hands before preparing food and before eating. Encourage children in your household to do the same.
- Clean the litter box daily. Freshly deposited feces are not infectious even if contaminated with toxoplasmosis. It takes at least 48 hours for the organism to develop in the feces to the point where it can infect another animal or person.
- Wear gloves when maintaining the litter box.
- Do not dispose of soiled litter in gardens or other areas of your yard where you recreate.
- If you are pregnant, consider asking someone else in the household to maintain the litter box.
- Do not allow your cat to hunt. (Keeping your cat indoors is the easiest solution.)
- Do not feed your cat raw meat. (Just like people, cats can get toxoplasmosis by eating uncooked meat.)
- Follow a good parasite prevention program for your cat. Remember, toxoplasmosis is not the only parasite that is transmissible to people.
Above all, don’t panic and feel as though you need to get rid of your cat. Common sense, good sanitary practices and proper pet care should keep you and your family safe from toxoplasmosis.
Dr. Lorie Huston