Does Your Cat’s Jaundice Have a Parasitic Cause? The Link Between Toxoplasmosis and Feline Jaundice

What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infectious disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite can infect most warm-blooded mammals and birds (1).

Cats are the definitive host for T. gondii, meaning the parasite can sexually reproduce only within cats. Cats become infected by ingesting infected rodents, birds or other small animals, or anything contaminated with feces from another infected cat (2). The parasite forms egg-like structures called oocysts that are shed in the cat’s feces.

Other animals, including humans, can become infected after inadvertently ingesting the parasite’s oocysts through exposure to infected cat feces in litter boxes, soil, food or water (2). The parasite can also be spread by eating undercooked infected meat.

Once ingested, the oocysts transform into tachyzoites that can infect different tissues in the body. While healthy cats typically show no symptoms, toxoplasmosis can cause illness in immunocompromised cats and other species (3).

Overall, toxoplasmosis is a very common parasitic infection but often causes no signs of disease in infected cats.





What are the symptoms of toxoplasmosis in cats?

Cats with toxoplasmosis often show no symptoms at all and the infection remains dormant (1). However, when symptoms do occur they can include:

Fever, loss of appetite, lethargy – Infected cats may develop a fever and become lethargic and disinterested in food (2). The fever is often mild but can persist for a week or more.

Enlarged lymph nodes – The lymph nodes may become swollen as they work to fight off the infection (3). This is most commonly seen in the lymph nodes in the head and neck.

Respiratory issues – Some cats develop pneumonia from toxoplasmosis infection, causing breathing difficulties and coughing (3). The lungs may become inflamed.

Overall, toxoplasmosis symptoms in cats tend to be vague and non-specific. In mild cases, the cat may only show a low-grade fever and appetite loss. In more severe cases, they can suffer from severe lethargy, labored breathing, and debilitation from the infection spreading throughout the body.


How do cats get infected with toxoplasmosis?

Cats primarily get infected with toxoplasmosis in two ways:

1. By ingesting infected prey, raw meat, or anything contaminated with feces from another infected cat. Cats get infected by eating infected rodents, birds or other small animals that harbor the parasite. They can also ingest oocysts by eating contaminated soil, water, or plant material (1).

2. Through transplacental transmission from an infected mother cat to her kittens. If a pregnant mother cat is infected, she can pass the parasite on to her offspring congenitally by crossing the placenta. This can cause illness or even death of the kittens (2).

After ingesting Toxoplasma gondii oocysts, the parasite multiplies and forms tissue cysts in the cat’s body, mainly in the brain and muscles. Cats excrete the parasite in their feces for up to 2 weeks after first infection. After this initial shedding, most cats develop immunity and are protected from re-infection. However, if a cat’s immune system is compromised, they may shed oocysts again.

In summary, cats primarily get infected by eating infected prey or congenitally from their mother during gestation. Proper hygiene and preventing access to raw meat or rodents can reduce risk of exposure.



What is jaundice in cats?

Jaundice, also known as icterus, is a condition in cats characterized by yellowing of the skin, gums, ears, and other tissues. It is caused by an excess buildup of bilirubin in the bloodstream and tissues. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is a waste product formed from the breakdown of red blood cells. Normally, the liver filters out and breaks down bilirubin, but liver damage or disease can cause a buildup of unconjugated bilirubin. Another potential cause is hemolytic anemia, a condition in which red blood cells are destroyed prematurely, leading to excessive bilirubin production.

The yellow color is most easily seen in the gums, inner ears, and around the eyes. However, jaundice can also cause yellowing of the skin and other mucus membranes if bilirubin levels are very high. Besides the yellow coloration, there are usually other symptoms associated with the underlying liver disease or hemolytic anemia causing the jaundice. Lethargy, poor appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea are common. In some cases, jaundice may be the only obvious sign of an underlying problem.

While mild jaundice on its own may not be serious, the underlying condition causing it often is. Timely diagnosis and treatment of liver disease and hemolytic anemia is important. Therefore, the yellowing seen with jaundice should never be ignored. Jaundice in cats warrants veterinary attention to identify and properly treat the cause.

What causes jaundice in cats?

Jaundice in cats, also known as icterus, is typically caused by liver disease or gallbladder disorders that prevent the normal flow of bile. Some of the main causes of jaundice in cats include:

Liver disease – Conditions like hepatitis or hepatic lipidosis can damage the liver, preventing it from processing bilirubin properly and leading to a buildup of bilirubin that causes jaundice.

Gallbladder disorders – Obstruction of the bile ducts due to gallstones or inflammation can block the normal flow of bile from the gallbladder, resulting in jaundice.

Hemolytic anemia – This condition causes premature breakdown of red blood cells, leading to an excess of bilirubin that cannot be processed and excreted properly by the liver.

Pancreatitis – Inflammation of the pancreas can impair bile flow and cause jaundice in cats.

Jaundice is a symptom of an underlying disorder rather than its own disease. Identifying and treating the underlying cause is crucial for resolving jaundice in cats. If left untreated, jaundice can lead to potentially serious complications.

Is there a link between toxoplasmosis and jaundice in cats?

Based on research, there does not appear to be a direct link between toxoplasmosis and jaundice in cats. Jaundice is not considered a typical symptom of toxoplasmosis in felines (Cornell Feline Health Center).

However, in some cases toxoplasmosis may cause inflammation of the liver. Liver inflammation can then lead to jaundice, which is characterized by yellowing of the skin, gums, and eyes (International Cat Care). So while not a direct symptom, jaundice could potentially develop as a secondary effect if toxoplasmosis affects the liver.

Overall, jaundice appears to be an uncommon manifestation of toxoplasmosis in cats. The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is not a frequent cause of illness in felines to begin with (VCA Hospitals). Targeted testing would be needed to determine if toxoplasmosis is involved in a specific case of jaundice in a cat.

How is toxoplasmosis diagnosed in cats?

There are a few different diagnostic tests veterinarians can use to determine if a cat has toxoplasmosis:

Blood tests can detect antibodies against Toxoplasma gondii, indicating the cat has been exposed to the parasite at some point. However, the presence of antibodies does not necessarily mean the cat is currently infected or sick from toxoplasmosis [1].

PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing of body fluids like blood or cerebrospinal fluid can detect DNA from the parasite, providing evidence of active infection [2].

Biopsy of enlarged lymph nodes and microscopic examination may reveal characteristic changes and the presence of T. gondii tachyzoites [2].

There is no single definitive diagnostic test, so veterinarians often use a combination of blood work, imaging, PCR, and biopsy to determine if a cat has toxoplasmosis.

How is jaundice diagnosed in cats?

Jaundice in cats is typically diagnosed through the following methods:

Physical Exam – The most obvious sign of jaundice is yellowing of the cat’s skin, gums, and the whites of the eyes. Vets will look for this discoloration during a full physical exam. Checking the color of the gums and inner eyelids is a simple way to screen for jaundice.

Blood Tests – A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel can help diagnose jaundice. The CBC checks for anemia and signs of infection. The chemistry panel measures bilirubin levels. Elevated bilirubin indicates jaundice. Other liver enzymes like ALT, AST, and ALP may also be elevated.

Imaging Tests – X-rays, ultrasound, or CT scans of the abdomen may be done. These imaging tests allow the vet to visualize the liver, gallbladder, and bile ducts. They can check for gallstones, tumors, inflammation, or other abnormalities that may be obstructing bile flow.

How is toxoplasmosis treated in cats?

There is no cure for toxoplasmosis in cats, but the disease can be managed with treatment. The main treatment for toxoplasmosis in cats involves antibiotics, primarily clindamycin. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, “Treatment usually involves a course of an antibiotic called clindamycin, either alone or in combination with corticosteroids if there is significant inflammation” (source). Clindamycin helps stop the spread of the parasite and reduce symptoms. Other antibiotics may also be used.

Supportive care is also an important part of managing toxoplasmosis in cats. This can include providing nutritional support and fluids to maintain hydration and electrolyte balance. Cats with toxoplasmosis often lose their appetite, so feeding tube placement may be necessary to ensure they receive adequate nutrition during treatment.

It is also recommended to keep cats with toxoplasmosis indoors and away from other cats to prevent spread of the parasite through infected feces. Outdoor access should be avoided until treatment is complete and the infection has cleared.

How is jaundice treated in cats?

The main aims of treating jaundice in cats are to treat the underlying cause, provide supportive care, and protect the liver. Some key aspects of treatment include:

Treating the underlying cause – The vet will try to diagnose and treat the underlying disease or condition causing the jaundice. This may involve antibiotics for infections, surgery for obstructions/tumors, etc.

Fluids and nutritional support – Dehydration is common with jaundice, so supplying supplemental fluids intravenously or subcutaneously helps. Providing adequate nutrition with a highly digestible diet is also important.

Medications to protect the liver – Certain medications may be prescribed to help improve liver function and minimize damage. These can include corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, ursodeoxycholic acid to improve bile flow, SAMe supplements to repair liver cells, etc.

The specific treatment plan will depend on the individual cat and the underlying cause. The outlook can vary widely – from good if treated promptly, to grave if liver failure is advanced. Close monitoring and follow-up care are essential (1).

With appropriate treatment and supportive care, many cats can recover fully from jaundice. However, the condition can sometimes be difficult to manage long-term, especially with chronic liver disease (2).




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