Cats and toxoplasmosis

Learn more about toxoplasmosis in our video

Reduce the risk

People are more likely to pick up toxoplasmosis from their garden or undercooked or raw meat than their cat. By following good hygiene around your cat's litter tray you can minimise the already small risk.

Introduction to toxoplasmosis

Are you concerned about catching toxoplasmosis from your cat?

The good news is that your cat is unlikely to transmit this micro-organism to you. A study in the British Medical Journal concluded that contact with cats was not a major risk factor for toxoplasma infection.

Although cats are a link in the transmission of toxoplasmosis, you are more likely to get infected through contact with contaminated soil (from gardening without gloves), eating unwashed fruit or vegetables, or by eating undercooked meat.

Vets who work with cats are no more likely to be infected with toxoplasmosis than the general public, including people who have no contact with cats. At the same time, 20-30 per cent of the population has already been infected with toxoplasmosis, giving most of them lifelong immunity to its effects.

The majority of people infected by the parasite, Toxoplasmosis gondii, or T gondii, will be unaware of it because infection goes unnoticed or causes mild flu-like symptoms.

However, for people with impaired immune systems, such as those undergoing treatment for cancer, transplant patients, those suffering from AIDS, the very young or elderly, toxoplasmosis may be more serious.

Minimise the risks of toxoplasmosis infection

While the risk of getting infected with toxoplasmosis from your cat is small, there are steps you can take to minimise the risk further:

  • wear disposable gloves and an apron when cleaning litter trays
  • clean litter trays every day to prevent toxoplasmosis spores from developing from contaminated faecal matter
  • wash the cat's litter trays periodically with detergent or cat-safe disinfectant and boiling water. Soak for 5-10 minutes
  • cover children's sand pits to prevent cats soiling in them
  • avoid feeding cats raw or under-cooked meat - or unpasteurised products

You can reduce the risks of contracting toxoplasmosis from other sources - particularly if you are pregnant or immuno-suppressed:

  • wear gloves when handling raw meat, fruit and vegetables and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards
  • cook all meat thoroughly to at least 70°C for 15 minutes. Freezing meat at -12°C for several days also kills the toxoplasmosis oocysts
  • avoid consuming cured or raw meats or unpasteurised dairy products, including goat's milk
  • wash all fruit and vegetables thoroughly, including ready-prepared salads, to remove any traces of soil
  • wash all utensils, chopping boards and surfaces with hot water and detergent after handling raw meat, fruit and vegetables
  • boil or filter surface water before drinking
  • wear gloves when gardening and avoid putting hands or gloves to your mouth. Wash your hands thoroughly after contact with soil
  • avoid contact with sheep and newborn lambs at lambing time

Toxoplasmosis and pregnant women

If a previously unexposed woman becomes infected with T gondii (toxoplasmosis) during pregnancy, her unborn baby may be at risk and miscarriage could occur, particularly if infection occurs during the first trimester.

It is estimated that only between 0.2 and 1.6 per cent of women become infected while pregnant and congenital toxoplasmosis, when the baby is born infected, is very rare, occurring in one in 100,000 babies born in the UK.

Related topics

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