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What's Toxoplasmosis in Dogs?

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Whats Toxoplasmosis in Dogs _ Cause Symptoms and Treatment _ ASPCA Pet Insurance _ tired French bulldog puppy on a white bed

Toxoplasmosis is more commonly associated with cats, but dogs can contract the parasite that causes this disease too.

Toxoplasmosis in Dogs

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a one-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii or T. gondii. These microscopic organisms can infect any warm-blooded animal, but cats are the only known primary or definitive hosts. This means that the parasite can complete its lifecycle within a cat's body and pass back into the environment through their feces.

Dogs and humans are intermediate hosts for T. gondii. The parasite can live within the body for long periods of time, but it can't reach full maturity. However, it can cause a generalized infection as it spreads and invades their tissues.

Lifecycle of the Parasite

Once the parasite enters the digestive tract of a cat, it replicates itself and forms oocysts, which are thick-walled cysts containing zygotes. Newly exposed cats usually begin to shed oocysts in three to 10 days and continue shedding for around 10 to 14 days. After they're in the environment, the oocysts form spores (sporulate) and become infectious in around one to five days.

Toxoplasmosis is one of several zoonotic diseases, which can be passed from an animal to a human. Find out more about zoonotic diseases.

Causes of Toxoplasmosis in Dogs

Dogs can contract the parasite when they ingest the feces of an infected cat or nose around in soil where it lives. Other causes include ingesting contaminated meat or shellfish that is raw or undercooked, drinking water containing the parasite, or accidentally ingesting contaminated soil, for instance, by eating unwashed fruits or vegetables from a garden.

They can also contract the parasite if they kill and eat an infected animal. While this source of infection is typically associated with cats, dogs who like to hunt and prey on small birds and other wildlife who may be carrying T. gondii are at risk of becoming infected.

Toxoplasmosis Symptoms in Dogs

Healthy adult dogs may not have any signs of toxoplasmosis, since their immune systems are able to control the spread of the parasite. Dogs with weakened immunity due to age or health conditions and puppies who have immature immune systems are at a higher risk for developing symptoms, which can include:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing or coughing
  • Jaundice
  • Muscle weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Eye inflammation
  • Seizures, tremors, or other neurological symptoms

If your dog shows symptoms of toxoplasmosis or other signs of illness, you should visit your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment advice.

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Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will ask you about your dog's medical history, symptoms, and how and when the issue began. You should also let them know if your dog was involved in any specific incidents that could have led to a parasitic infection, such as spending time in an area that could be visited by feral cats.

They will conduct a physical examination of your dog. Additionally, they may recommend lab tests, such as blood work and a urinalysis, to rule out other conditions and confirm that there is an infection.

How to Treat Toxoplasmosis in Dogs

Most adult dogs in good health won't experience any negative effects of toxoplasmosis and won't require treatment. However, dogs with severe symptoms may need immediate hospitalization. They may be given fluid therapy to treat dehydration, anticonvulsive medication to prevent seizures, and antibiotics to help control the infection.

Can You Get Toxoplasmosis From Your Dog?

Toxoplasmosis is considered a zoonotic disease, which means it can be passed from animals to humans. However, dogs are not primary hosts, and they do not shed T. gondii in their feces, so you don't have to worry about contracting it from them. The parasite is most often passed to humans by one of these methods:

  • Eating contaminated raw or undercooked meat.
  • Not washing up properly after gardening.
  • Coming into contact with the feces of an infected cat.

Toxoplasmosis is not typically a concern for healthy adults, but it can cause flu-like symptoms for people with weakened immune systems. It's also highly problematic for pregnant women.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 40 million people in the United States may be infected with T. gondii, but most won't show any symptoms.

Toxoplasmosis in Dogs and Pregnancy

Toxoplasmosis is a serious issue for pregnant women since the organism can cross the placenta and cause severe congenital disabilities. Newborns exposed to T. gondii can have jaundice, enlarged organs, intellectual disabilities, impaired eyesight, and seizures. Some may die a short time after birth.

Pregnant women are typically advised not to clean up pet waste to help avoid contracting Toxoplasmosis or other parasitic diseases.

Prevention

There are things you can do to help keep you and your dog safe from toxoplasmosis, such as:

  • If you have a cat in the house, keep the litter box somewhere your dog can't get at it.
  • Scoop out the litter box twice a day and refresh the litter on a regular basis.
  • Consider wearing gloves when you clean the litter box. If you're pregnant, assign litter box duties to someone else.
  • Cover outdoor sandboxes when they're not in use, so cats can't use them as a litter box.
  • Avoid feeding your dog raw or undercooked meats.
  • Wear gloves when you're gardening and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating or offering them to your dog, especially if they are grown in a garden.
  • Be careful when handling raw meat. For instance, avoid cross-contamination by cleaning the knives, cutting boards, and surfaces involved in preparation and wash your hands when you're done.
  • Avoid letting your dog hunt or scavenge wild animals that could be infected.

If your dog does need treatment for toxoplasmosis, pet insurance can help cover the costs of treatment. Dig into pet insurance to learn how it can help you care for your best friend.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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