What You Need to Know About Your Cat’s Poop
What is Toxoplasmosis
Toxoplasmosis is an illness caused by the toxoplasma gondii parasite, which is a protozoan organism that can be present in a number of different things. Although extremely dangerous to pregnant women, over sixty million Americans actually carry the parasite in their bodies.
How You Catch Toxoplasmosis
People develop toxoplasmosis when the parasite enters the body and the immune system is not able to keep it in check. One of the best known causes of toxoplasmosis is contact with cat poop, or feces. Cats typically ingest the organism from eating small animals, such as birds or mice, that are infected with it; the infected cat then passes millions of toxoplasma gondii in its poop. The parasite gets into humans when they eat the toxoplasma eggs, which can happen if you eat infected food or change your cat’s litter pan then touching your unwashed hand to your mouth or to food. You can also catch toxoplasmosis from eating infected meat or handling it when raw without washing your hands; pregnant women can then give it to a baby in utero.
Effects of Toxoplasmosis
Most adults and children who carry toxoplasma gondii parasites have no symptoms since their immune system suppresses it. If it breaks through your immune system, you can expect a mild illness, much like the flu, until your body brings it back into check. Your immune system will not kill the parasite, though; it will just inactivate it. Toxoplasmosis can also be more dangerous in people who have compromised immune systems, such as those who have been diagnosed with HIV.
Effects on a Pregnancy
Unfortunately, toxoplasmosis can be passed from a mother to her unborn child. While the mother may seem to be healthy, the toxoplasma parasites can cause a miscarriage or a stillbirth. Fetuses which survive can suffer from any number of maladies and defects, which can include an abnormal head which is either shrunken or oversized or a broad number of visual problems stemming from scarred retinas. Although less than two percent of adults who contract toxoplasmosis will have this side effect, between 20 and 80 percent of fetuses with toxoplasmosis will have retina damage which can cause such things as eye pain, blurriness and abnormally high light sensitivity. Toxoplasmosis can also cause seizures and mental disabilities, although these effects are typically not noticeable at birth but, instead, appear over time.
Help! I’m a Pregnant Cat Owner
Don’t worry. You do not need to give your cat away. What you do need to do is to take intelligent precautions. The best option is to have someone else handle your cat’s litterbox. If you cannot do this, just wear gloves when you come in contact with the litterbox and wash your hands with warm soapy water afterwards. Feeding your cat commercial cat food, instead of raw meat or animals that they catch themselves, will reduce the chance that they get toxoplasmosis. You can also reduce your risk by frequently cleaning the cat box since it takes anywhere from one to five days for toxoplasma parasites in cat poop to become dangerous.