Health tip: preventing a toxoplasmosis infection from cat faeces

A lot has been said about toxoplasmosis and the possibility of contracting it through coming into contact with domestic cat faeces. This has particular significance with respect to pregnant women.

Cats get toxoplasma infection by eating infected rodents, birds or other small animals. They can also get it by coming into contact with anything that is contaminated with faeces from another cat that is shedding this microscopic parasite in their faeces by way of oocysts.

Toxoplasma gondii oocyst
Toxoplasma gondii oocyst. Source: CDC and Science Direct.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

After a cat has been affected it can shed the parasite for up to 2 weeks. In cats the oocysts develop in the intestines and are passed in their faeces. The faeces of infected cats present a health hazard to others. But these infective oocysts are only passed for a very short time after the cat has been exposed to the disease.

Critically, CDC in America tell me that “the parasite becomes infective 1-5 days after it is passed in the faeces. This tells me that at the earliest, one day after the feces have passed into a litter tray they become infective and at that point they present a hazard to a cat owner cleaning the litter tray.

On that basis, it makes sense, as recommended by CDC, to change a cat’s litter box every day. If you do that, on my reckoning, you highly unlikely to encounter infective toxoplasma gondii oocysts from handling the litter tray. This is my health tip of the day! ?

I will add some more information. CDC also recommend feeding cats only canned or dried commercial foods or well-cooked meats. The reason behind this advice is that evidence strongly suggests that cats and people can get the disease from eating raw or undercooked pork, veal, mutton, beef or unpasteurised dairy products which contain toxoplasma organisms.

Cat leaving a covered litter tray
Cat leaving a covered litter tray. Photo: iStockphoto. Note: covered litter trays are more likely to have clay dust trapped in the air inside.

There is a disturbing article online today on the Medical News Today website. And the truth is that cat owners and cat lovers cannot brush the toxoplasmosis problem under the carpet. Cat haters always bring it up and cat lovers tend to brush it aside as relatively unimportant. I don’t think that it is unimportant. I think that it is a real problem in the cat-human relationship.

A research project indicates that when kids come into contact with the family cat, they have a greater risk of later-life mental illness. This is based on two studies in the journals Schizophrenia Research and Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica.

They appear to have identified a link between children in homes with a family cat developing later life schizophrenia and other mental disorders. They state that “around 50% of individuals who had a cat as a family pet during childhood were diagnosed with schizophrenia or other mental illness later in life compared with 42% who did not have a cat during childhood.”

They are saying that there is an 8% increase in risk in developing mental health issues later in life if you live with the family cat when you’re a kid. That’s my interpretation.

I see this as a problem. It’s a potential negative set against the great benefits that domestic cat companionship brings to millions of people. The benefits clearly outweigh the detriments by a big margin but we can’t ignore these detriments and we should do things to minimise them and as suggested in today’s health tip. ?

There are some more toxoplasmosis articles below.

Toxoplasma parasite engages in 'identity theft' of immune cell to travel around the host's body

Is toxoplasmosis a serious problem for humans?

Toxoplasma gondii oocyst. Source: CDC and Science Direct. There is a disconnect between what we read about the seriousness of ...
Toxo infographic

Infographic on toxoplasmosis and its zoonotic ability

Here are some notes on toxoplasmosis in an infographic. I have to be very selective on what to include and ...
Toxoplasma parasite engages in 'identity theft' of immune cell to travel around the host's body

Wily toxoplasma parasite hijacks immune cells to travel around the host

I have had to interpret a very complicated study on the Toxoplasma gondii protozoan parasite published on the Cell Host ...
Toxoplasma gondii

Domestic cats overly criticised for their role as hosts of Toxoplasma gondii

The life-cycle of Toxoplasma gondii is complicated. People tend to oversimplify it. They see the domestic cat infecting humans with ...
Toxoplasma gondii

Is there a link between domestic cats and human psychosis?

I declare my bias/interest: I am for the cat and against science which either purposefully or inadvertently maligns the cat ...
TNR program Austin Texas

Feral cats in TNR colonies are no greater risk to human beings than pet cats

An interesting study dated 2003 titled: Prevalence of infectious diseases in feral cats in Northern Florida concluded that feral cats ...
Map showing where T. gondii is most prevalent in wild animals

Toxoplasmosis in wild animals is more common in places of higher human density

A study has found that the protozoan parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis is more commonly found in wild animals that live ...
Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.
Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important
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