By Silvia Zayadin, Veterinarian
If you are a cat owner or lover, you’ve probably heard the scary warning: ‘’Cats endanger a woman’s health: they cause infertility and even miscarriage”.
Are cats really a threat?
When toxoplasma (Toxoplasma gondii), a parasite, is mentioned in a conversation, it almost always involves a warning about pregnancy and miscarriage. This is because the toxoplasma organism can (if acquired for the first time during pregnancy) be transmitted to the foetus and cause complications that might develop later during childhood or even adulthood. In some cases, a miscarriage or stillborn birth
Since toxoplasmosis can be transmitted via contact with cat faeces, many women are told to avoid cats. But the chances of us getting this disease by simply touching and caring for a cat are extremely small. In almost all cases, toxoplasmosis in humans can be traced to handling or eating raw or undercooked meat, not properly washing hands after gardening or eating unwashed fruits and vegetables.
Cats can get the disease when eating raw meat either by hunting rodents or being fed by us. If the ingested meat is infected and contains the parasite Toxoplasma gondii cats get the infection and start to shed the toxoplasma organism in their faeces within a short period of time (around two
to three weeks).
In order for a human to be exposed to the organism from a cat, that person would have to have a cat who is actively hunting or being fed infected raw meat, develop the disease and start to shed the organism in its faeces. Then, the pet owner would have to clean the litter box and if he does not wash his hands properly, he will ingest the cat’s infected faeces. So technically, it is extremely hard to acquire the disease from your pet if you keep good hygiene.
Acquiring the infection while pregnant can be problematic as pregnant women are at risk of transmitting this parasite to their foetus, which can potentially lead to various abnormalities in the faoetus. Women who had been previously infected before becoming pregnant do not run this risk. This is why it is recommended that women who intend to become pregnant, or who learn they are pregnant, see their gynaecologist to be tested and check whether they had previously contracted the parasite, have recently contracted the parasite, or had never contracted it at all.
How do I know if my cat has toxoplasmosis?
Symptoms in cats include:
Partial or complete paralysis
Loss of appetite
Inflammation of eye structures (retina, iris and cornea)
Since the clinical signs are not specific, a complete physical examination and blood testing by your veterinarian should be done. Another reliable test is the serological test which is used to establish a definitive diagnosis by measuring the levels of toxoplasma antigens in the cat’s blood. Those tests are fast and results are usually ready on spot at the veterinary clinic.
Prevention is key
While cats are the best known transmitters for the this parasite, remember that the parasite is more frequently acquired through handling raw meat and eating unwashed fruits and vegetables. The best protection against this parasite, for you and your cat, is prevention and hygiene.
How to prevent toxoplasmosis
Do not feed raw meat to your cat
Cover outdoor sandboxes when not in use to prevent cats from using them as litter boxes
Wash hands after playing outside (particularly with children)
Wear disposable gloves while changing the litter box
Keep the litter box clean on a daily basis
If you are pregnant and have a cat, let some other family member be on litter box duty during the duration of the pregnancy
Wear gloves while gardening
If you allow your cat to go outdoors, be aware that your cat can easily acquire the parasite from other cats, from digging in dirt that is infected with the parasite and from eating the meat of animals that are infected so it is best to keep your cat strictly indoor