Cats and dogs can live very happily together, as many pet parents can attest to. However when they do, certain extra precautions need to be taken to ensure that everyone - cat, dog and human - remain healthy, especially when it comes to preventing toxoplasmosis in your pet dog.
What is Toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis (also called toxoplasma) is an infection caused by a microscopic parasite, Toxoplasma ghondii.
For many healthy, adult dogs this infection is very mild and causes no symptoms and calls for little to no treatment. It can be a different story, however, for puppies and older pups or dogs with an already compromised immune system.
For them untreated toxoplasmosis can lead to damage to the nervous and/or repository system and can also damage their vision.
What causes toxoplasmosis in dogs?
The parasite that causes toxoplasmosis is usually carried by cats. It is then passed on to dogs - and in some cases humans - in fecal matter. Felines are not, however, the only possible source of toxoplasmosis in the average home.
A different form of the infection, but one that can cause as much damage, Toxoplasma gondii, can be passed on via unwashed fruits and vegetables and raw meat.
How can I tell if my dog has toxoplasmosis?
As mentioned earlier, many healthy adult dogs can become infected and never show any outward signs of illness or be adversely affected by the presence of the parasite. In these cases eventually the parasite passes out of their body and they then develop antibodies that will protect them against future infections.
In dogs that are affected the signs and symptoms of toxoplasmosis can include any or all of the following:
Some of these symptoms can be similar to those seen in other serious canine health conditions, including distemper and rabies, so it is imperative you get medical attention for your pup as soon as possible so that a proper diagnosis can be made and the right treatments started.
How is toxoplasmosis diagnosed?
To accurately diagnose toxoplasma in your pet dog, or to rule it out, your vet will order what might seem like a battery of different tests, but all are often necessary if a truly accurate diagnosis is to be made.
These will include blood tests, urinalysis and in some cases, testing a sample of the pup's cerebrospinal fluid.
There are specific things that your vet will be on the lookout for. These include a decreased white blood cell count, higher levels of liver enzymes and the decreased instance of certain blood proteins.
Most importantly though your vet will make use of blood tests to determine if a pup's antigen and antibody levels indicate that toxoplasmosis is present and whether the infection is acute - in that it has occurred recently - or chronic - in that it has been present for some time. This will often determine how a pup is treated, both immediately and in the future.
How is toxoplasmosis in dogs treated?
In very severe cases you family pet may be hospitalized and put on a course of IV antibiotics. In most cases however he will be given antibiotic medications and sent home.
Sulfadiazine (15–25 mg/kg) and pyrimethamine (0.44 mg/kg) are the most commonly used drugs to treat a toxoplasmosis infection in pets.
For very difficult cases, other drugs are administered, including diaminodiphenylsulfone, atovaquone, and spiramycin.
Your vet will then advise that you follow up for further testing after the course of medication has been completed to ensure that the infection is gone and that the proper antibodies have been created that will protect him against it in the future.
Recovery and prevention
With proper treatment most pups do recover from toxoplasmosis well. The exception may be a pup that was infected while pregnant. Unfortunately when this occurs even with treatment the pups may be stillborn or born with disabilities.
As prevention is always better than cure focusing on that is the best way to protect your pup from infection. This does not mean that you have banish your cat by the way, simply ensure that your pup cannot eat from his litter tray. You should also be aware of the fact that many cases of Toxoplasmosis are not feline related at all, but caused by poor food hygiene and an ill-advised diet.
As many pet parents are aware, feeding dogs a raw meat diet has become very popular. Doing so does put them at great risk for developing Toxoplasmosis though, so making that diet change isn't a decision to be taken lightly. In addition, make sure that any fruits and vegetables he is given have been thoroughly washed.
If your cat ventures out into your yard sometimes, and especially if you have a sandbox out there, you will need to make sure your pup does not eat soil or feces out there. In fact, that should become a rule of thumb even if there are no cats in your family, as other cats may have roamed through your yard.
In terms of prevention for your cat and yourself some people do take their felines to the vet to be tested. Oddly enough if he tests positive for toxoplasmosis antibodies that's a good thing, as it means that he has been infected in the past and is now almost immune, so there are far fewer chances he will ever pass the infection on.
Whether you have your cat tested or not always wear gloves when cleaning his litter tray and dispose of the waste promptly outside. Pregnant women are advised not to clean litter boxes at all, as a precautionary measure. In addition, to protect yourself from foodborne infection never eat raw meat yourself and use strict hygiene measures when handling it.
For most familty pets - toxoplasmosis - is little more than a nuisance, but that does not mean the possibility he - or you - could become infected should be ignored. Make use of the information offered here to help prevent the infection and remember that your vet is always a great source of help and guidance if you have other questions and concerns about this common infection.
Medical disclaimer: If you are concerned about your pet, visit or call your veterinarian – he/she is your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your dog. This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet.