Recently, there have been lots of media reports about a possible link between toxoplasmosis and suicide. Before that, there were reports of a link between brain cancer and toxoplasmosis. Whether these links constitute true evidence of toxoplasmosis causing mental disorders is unknown based on what we know right now. The situation is far more complex than sensationalistic media headlines might have you believe.
While I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of toxoplasmosis as a disease, I do want cat owners to understand that the chance of getting toxoplasmosis from your pet cat is pretty slim if your cat lives indoors and doesn’t hunt or eat raw meat. In fact, you’re more likely to get toxoplasmosis from eating unwashed vegetables from your garden than you are from your pet cat.
While it’s not impossible to be exposed to toxoplasmosis through your cat’s litter box, most people are infected through other means. Cats that are infected with toxoplasmosis will shed oocysts (the infective stage in the life cycle of the Toxoplasma organisms that causes toxoplasmosis) for only a short time, usually only a few days.
In addition, even if your cat is shedding the organism, it takes a minimum of 48 hours for the oocysts to become infective. Cleaning the litter box daily prevents transmission. The use of proper hygiene, such as washing your hands after handling your cat’s litter box and/or wearing gloves when cleaning the box, also prevents transmission of the disease.
Keeping your cat indoors is a good way to prevent your cat from becoming infected with toxoplasmosis. Also, avoid feeding your cat raw meat and do not allow your cat to hunt. These practices will remove the possibility of exposure of your cat to toxoplasmosis.
How do most people become infected with toxoplasmosis? Through contact with contaminated soil or through eating raw meat contaminated with Toxoplasma oocysts.
Toxoplasmosis is a preventable disease. Practicing good hygiene is one of the cornerstones of preventing infection, since toxoplasmosis is transmitted via fecal contamination.
- Wash your hands after handling pet feces or cat litter. Consider wearing gloves when cleaning or changing the cat litter box.
- Wash your hands before handling or eating any food.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
- Wash your hands after gardening or working with soil.
- Cook all meats thoroughly before eating.
- Do not feed raw meat to your cat.
- Keep your cat indoors.
- Do not dispose of cat litter in your garden or yard.
- Cover your children’s sandboxes when not in use to prevent neighborhood cats from defecating in them.
Above all, don’t panic and get rid of your pet cat. Some simple precautions are all that is needed to protect yourself and your family from toxoplasmosis. Because of the many routes Toxoplasma can take, getting rid of your pet cat will not significantly lower your chances of getting this disease.
Dr. Lorie Huston
Image: Pawel Strykowski / via Shutterstock