Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Toxoplasmosis - A Silent Killer

What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a disease generally associated with cats, but often affects other animals and humans as well. Cats first get the disease by eating infected rodents, and pass the disease through their feces for a few weeks following infestation. Because they usually become immune after being exposed once or twice, younger cats are at much greater risk of spreading the disease than older cats are. 
In healthy adults, toxoplasmosis is usually harmless, usually causing mild flu-like symptoms at most, and often causing no symptoms at all. In pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems, it is much more dangerous, sometimes causing meningitis, neurological problems, abortions, and even death. Understanding the disease and avoiding things that put you at high risk of contracting it are the best way to protect yourself and those you love.

Can I Catch It?

Yes. One third to one half of the world's human population is estimated to carry a toxoplasmosis infection. 
Most people that contract toxoplasmosis do so in one of two ways:
1. Handling earth (gardening or in the sandbox) that has been infected by a cats feces and simply touching their mouth. The spores can live in the ground for up to a year.
2. Eating or drinking raw or undercooked milk or meat of an animal that has been infected by the disease.
While everyone is probably equally at risk for the first possibility here, this one is easily avoided through hand washing. The second line of risk factors is one that we, as goat owners, must pay special attention to. Knowing the risks it poses, and that our goats could be carriers, is something that should always be carefully considered when preparing food and milk for others.

How can my goats get Toxoplasmosis?

Goats can contract Toxoplasmosis by ingesting food or water contaminated by cat feces. It can live for years within a goat's brain, muscles, liver, or other vital organs, without affecting the goat at all, and sometimes even creates immunity to future infections.  

How can I tell if my goats have it?

Because the main signs of Toxoplasmosis are abortions, weak kids, stillbirths, birth defects, and mummification of fetuses in pregnant does, people don't know that their goats are infected until one of these things occur. Even then, there are many possible causes, and testing can be costly and inconclusive. Test results can be positive for years after exposure, even when they no longer pose a risk to their kids or their owners. 

What should I do if I think my goat is infected?

Blood testing for goats, cats, sheep, and cattle is available. Unfortunately, these tests don't always give a clear a complete picture of what is causing problems within a herd.
While some people choose to test after a single doe aborts, others choose never to test. If there are signs that your herd may be infected, feeding decoquinate or monensin throughout pregnancy may reduce the abortion rate in a herd with a history of toxoplasmosis. Sulfonamides and clindamycin are used to treat toxoplasmosis in goats. 

How can I protect myself and my goats?

There is no vaccine available in the United States. Control of toxoplasmosis is based on management practices. Like humans, cats rarely have symptoms when first infected, so most people do not know if their cat has been infected. The infection will go away on its own; therefore it does not help to have your cat or your cat's feces tested for toxoplasmosis. The best way to protect your herd is to keep your cat population healthy and manageable, to maintain a clean feeding are for your goats, and to discard any feed or water that may have been compromised in any way.

Nothing can guarantee that your goats will always be healthy and disease-free, but careful, conscientious herd management can go a long way in avoiding very costly and detrimental diseases like Toxoplasmosis. Learning how to recognize common diseases, and more importantly how to avoid them, is a great step in building a stronger, healthy herd, that will reward you with milk and meat for many years to come. As they say - an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

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