Toxoplasma gondii Infection in Cats Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) parasite. It is one of the most common parasitic diseases and is known to affect nearly all warm-blooded animals and humans, but cats are the primary living host. This parasite completes its life cycle in cats, and they are the only mammals in which this parasite is passed through the feces and into the environment as part of the life cycle. However, contact with raw meat and unwashed produce is also a very significant and well known source of human infection. Both acute and chronic forms of toxoplasmosis exist, where the chronic form is usually a low-grade disease without any clinical symptoms, and the acute form is more symptomatic. Symptoms and Types Cats are more commonly seen with clinical symptoms as compared to dogs. Such symptoms include: Lethargy Depression Fever Weight loss Respiratory problems, like shortness of breath Uncoordinated gait Seizures Tremors Muscular weakness Partial or complete paralysis Vomiting Diarrhea Abdominal Pain Jaundice Loss of appetite Inflammation of tonsils (tonsillitis) Inflammation of retina (retinitis) Inflammation of middle part of the eye including iris (uveitis) Inflammation of the cornea (keratitis) Symptoms are most severe in kittens infected while in the womb. These kittens may be stillborn or die before weaning. Those which survive may show show lack of appetite, fever, dyspnea, and jaundice. Causes Cats become infected through contact with the T. gondii parasite, which may be acquired from rooting in infected soil or from ingesting cat feces. Diagnosis You will need to give a detailed history of your cat's health, onset and nature of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition, such as contact with other cats. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam to evaluate your cat's body systems and to evaluate the overall health of your cat. Routine laboratory tests — such as a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis — are also used to confirm infection. For example, cats with toxoplasmosis may show an abnormally low number of white blood cells (leukopenia), low neutrophils (neutropenia), and low lymphocytes (lymphopenia) in the complete blood count. Conversely, during recovery, the complete blood count may reveal an increased number of white blood cells, an indication of the increased activity of the infection fighting white blood cells. The biochemistry profile usually reveals abnormally high levels liver enzymes ALT (alanine aminotransferase ) and AST (aspartate aminotransferase). Moreover, the level of albumin (the protein normally present in the blood) is also found to be at decreased levels in some cats with toxoplasmosis; a medical condition known as hypoalbuminemia. In about 25 percent cats with toxoplasmosis, jaundice is seen with disturbed liver enzymes ALT and AST. The urinalysis may reveal abnormally high level of proteins and bilirubin in the urine sample. Fecal samples may also reveal important information, as infected cats frequently shed parasite eggs in their feces. If you have a sample of your cat's feces that you can take with your to your veterinarian, it may help to make the diagnosis and treatment move along faster. Serological tests are the most reliable tests for making a definitive diagnosis. By measuring the levels of toxoplasma antigens in the body, your veterinarian can determine the type of infection, and whether it is active, dormant, recent (acute), or long term (chronic). Your veterinarian may repeat these tests three weeks after the initial testing as part of a follow-up exam. Serological tests will also help in determining the levels of antibodies IgM and IgG. Antibodies are proteins that are normally present in the body or produced in response to an antigen (in this case toxoplasma) for the purpose of neutralizing the antigen. Determining the IgM levels helps in diagnosis of active toxoplasmosis, as these antibodies increase in number within one week of infection and may remain elevated for three months. The IgG antibodies increase within two to four weeks after infection and may remain elevated for a whole year to follow. Determination of antigen and antibody levels will help your veterinarian make the confirmatory diagnosis. The polymerase chain reaction test is a reliable test for verifying the presence of Toxoplasma gondii in samples. Diagnostic imaging may also be called for, including a thoracic (chest) X-ray, which may show changes in the lung tissue, showing infection and marks of complications that are related to infection. Your veterinarian may also take a sample of lung fluid to determine the presence of the T. gondii organism, especially in cats with lung involvement. More advanced diagnostic testing includes taking a collection of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Laboratory testing of CSF may reveal an abnormally high number of white blood cells (WBCs) and protein concentrations in patients with infection that has reached the central nervous system. 1 2 Next prognosisThe prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance neutropeniaA decrease in the number of neutrophilic leukocytes in an animal’s blood lymphopeniaA decreased number of lymphocytic leukocytes in an animal’s blood system retinaThe layer of the eye that is charged with receiving and processing images tonsillitisA medical condition in which the tonsils are inflamed uveitisA medical condition in which the uvea becomes inflamed. urinalysisAn in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness leukopeniaA decrease in the number of white blood cells (abnormal) thoracicPertaining to the chest jaundiceA condition in which the skin becomes yellow in color as do the mucous membranes; this is due to excess amounts of bilirubin. antigenAny substance or item that the body of an animal would regard as strange or unwanted; a foreign disease or virus in the body (toxin, etc.) antibodyA protein in the body that is designed to fight disease; antibodies are brought on by the presence of certain antigens in the system. albuminA type of protein that can be dissolved in water; found in milk, egg white, certain muscle, blood, and some urine. bilirubinA certain pigment that is produced when hemoglobin is destroyed. dyspneaHaving a hard time breathing; breathing takes great pains acuteTerm used to imply that a situation or condition is more severe than usual; also used to refer to a disease having run a short course or come on suddenly. irisThe colored layer around the pupil gaitThe term used to describe the movement of an animal keratitisA medical condition in which the cornea becomes inflamed
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can be found in garden soil and raw meat. Cats can get toxoplasma infection by killing and eating infected prey. The disease can also be passed on from cats to humans. How Do Cats Get Toxoplasmosis? Cats most often become carriers of toxoplasmosis by killing and eating wild animals who have been infected-a good reason not to let your cat outside to hunt! A cat may also contract the disease should he come into contact with an infected cat’s feces. Once a cat is infected, the parasite multiplies in his intestines until immature eggs called oocysts are shed in his feces. Infected cats can shed oocysts for up to two weeks after initial infection. What Are the Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis in Cats? Most cats become immune to the disease through exposure to the parasite. However, those who aren’t already immune may have mild diarrhea and a loss of appetite; the disease can also affect a feline’s lungs, liver and nervous system. Kittens exposed to the parasite while still in the womb are most vulnerable-and are more likely than adult cats to show symptoms. What Should I Do If My Cat Has Toxoplasmosis? If you suspect your cat is carrying the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, it’s time to get him tested by your veterinarian. If he tests positive, it means he has been exposed to the disease but is unlikely to be shedding oocysts after an initial two-week period. If he tests negative, it means he has not been exposed and could still become infected and shed oocysts-but again only for two weeks. Cats who are capable of shedding eggs should be isolated from children and other pets, pregnant moms and any immunocompromised people in the household. Also, be sure to clean his litter box and bedding twice each day while wearing disposable gloves. Is There a Cure for Toxoplasmosis? Antibiotics are available that can clear up most of the symptoms of toxoplasmosis. Although they do not kill the parasite, they can provide an effective treatment.
Even though diagnosis of toxoplasmosis heavily relies on serological detection of specific anti-Toxoplasma immunoglobulin, serological testing has limitations. For example, it may fail to detect the active phase of T. gondii infection because the specific anti-Toxoplasma IgG or IgM may not be produced until after several weeks of infection. As a result, a pregnant woman might test negative during the active phase of T. gondii infection leading to undetected and therefore untreated congenital toxoplasmosis. Also, the test may not detect T. gondii infections in immunocompromised patients because the titers of specific anti-Toxoplasma IgG or IgM may not rise in this type of patient.