Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a protozoan. It is transmitted either through direct contact from one animal to another or through fecal matter, water, soil, or infected food. Toxoplasma puts both humans and animals in danger and it affects a wide variety of species – from Guinea pigs to Dama gazelles.
The disease is even more dangerous as it is estimated that about one-third of the United Kingdom population will get the protozoan at some point or the other in their lives. Naturally, it is one of the many zoonotic infectious diseases that we can catch from pets or just animals, in general. Let’s have a look at how Toxoplasma affects guinea pigs, but also some other species.
Infection and treatment in Guinea Pigs
As is the case with humans and other types of animals, some guinea pigs can be carriers of toxoplasmosis but could exhibit no symptoms whatsoever. However, if they are susceptible to the infection, cavies develop a flu-like illness accompanied by clinical signs such as heavy panting, lethargy, loss of appetite, a runny nose, and diarrhea.
Young and old guinea pigs are more exposed, and besides the fact that they can contract the disease more easily as they have a suppressed immune system, they also have a high risk of death. Female guinea pigs typically pass the disease to unborn offspring through the placental barrier, which also happens in humans. The risk of spontaneous abortion of unborn baby guinea pigs is increased in a mother with toxoplasmosis.
Some infected baby guinea pigs can have vision problems or learning or behavioral difficulties and disorders, or they can be stillborn.
Toxoplasmosis can, fortunately, be treated effectively when caught in time, so if you are a guinea pig parent and you notice flu-like symptoms in your companion, get in touch with a veterinarian as soon as possible. Quarantine the sick guinea pigs to avoid allowing the disease to spread to the healthy ones.
Disinfection and prevention in Guinea Pigs
The egg casings of the Toxoplasma protozoans are known to be highly resistant to a variety of household disinfectants, especially natural ones. It is true that some substances (such as bleach) are capable of killing it, and others are capable of inactivating the oocyst — such as iodine, formalin, or ammonia. Therefore, you can use these to clean the cages and hard-surfaced accessories.
It is also recommended that you soak the water and food bowls in a vinegar solution. If you live in an area where the winters are harsh, and you have freezing weather at your disposal, you can place the emptied cages outside of the house for three days. This usually kills oocysts.
Without any of the methods that we’ve talked about, oocysts are capable of surviving for up to one year.
Preventing toxoplasmosis in guinea pigs can be done by making sure that the vegetables and generally, foodstuffs that you give to the cavies are washed well. Sanitizing the cage, especially if you have two or more guinea pigs, is necessary so as to eliminate any possibility that the disease is transmitted through fecal matter. Change the bedding regularly and scrub the cage on a weekly basis. Make sure to avoid doing all of this if you are a pregnant woman.
Toxoplasmosis in other species
As we have noted previously, Toxoplasma can affect a variety of species. Cats are the definitive host to Toxoplasma gondii, but other mammals and even birds can act as intermediate hosts. It also occurs in sheep, goats, as well as swine. The only animals where lower infection rates were reported are dogs and horses. Cattle appear to be relatively resistant to the disease.
Infections in most other species (aside from cats) is generally asymptomatic, but outbreaks can occur, and they are characterized by generalized infections, abortions, as well as neonatal mortality. Fever, ataxia, and retinal degeneration is known to happen in horses.
Clinical toxoplasmosis can be seen in sheep, goats, and of course, wild animals related to them (such as the Dama gazelle, too). When they become infected during pregnancy, the animals will show clinical signs such as abortions, stillbirth, or resorption of the fetus. Infected lambs, born with the disease, are weak, uncoordinated, and incapable of nursing.
Transmission to humans
Humans are at risk, especially when they are exposed to pets that are infected with Toxoplasma. The likelihood of someone catching the disease when going on a safari and seeing gazelles, for example, are quite slim. However, that doesn’t mean that it is an impossible situation as even on a safari, one can come in contact with the fecal matter of wild animals.
Since many of the infections in humans are also asymptomatic, the ones that are truly in danger are women that are planning to get pregnant. Whether exposed to pets or wild animals, it is a good idea to get tested and see whether treatment for toxoplasmosis isn’t necessary before becoming pregnant. Treating cats can also be done effectively, and preventing the disease can be as easy as asking someone else to change the litter or using gloves while doing so.