Can I get toxoplasmosis from petting my cat?

No, you cannot get toxoplasmosis from petting your cat. You might get it from handling faeces from your cat in which there are toxoplasma gondii oocysts. It is rare though. A child might get them on her hands if she plays in a sandpit where a cat has pooped. The child then may put her hands into her mouth, as children do, and ingest the oocysts which would cause an infection in the child. But, I stress, you cannot get toxoplasmosis from petting your cat.

T. gondii oocyst
T. gondii oocyst. Image: MikeB.

It is interesting to note, by the way, that contact with your cat generally has no influence on the probability of people having antibodies to the parasite. In other words, contact with your cat does not expose you to toxoplasmosis resulting in antibodies being produced inside you as a defence against this disease. Kissing your cat might be more problematic. Read about it by clicking here.

That is why only 20% of people in the United Kingdom have antibodies to toxo. In contrast to that percentage, 80% of French and Germans do have antibodies to toxo because they eat more raw or undercooked meat.

That tells the clear tale that by far the majority of infections in humans of toxoplasmosis comes from eating raw meat. Let's do justice to the domestic cat and not frighten ourselves unnecessarily. If you want to protect yourself against toxoplasmosis then prepare your raw meats properly and don't eat like the French and Germans do!

I should also stress, by the way, that being infected with toxo from cat faeces can only happen during a two-week window in which the parasite is viable after the cat's first consumption of contaminated wildlife. It's a short period of time which further highlights the point that people can live with domestic cats safely and they should not be fearful of contracting toxoplasmosis from the cat. This also applies to pregnant women who simply have to take some precautions.

On that subject, if you are pregnant you can reduce the risk in several ways:

  • by wearing gloves when handling raw meat and by washing your hands afterwards;
  • only eat thoruughly cooked meat or meat which has been smoked, cured or frozen for at least three days;
  • by washing vegetables and fruit thoroughly before eating them; 
  • and by wearing rubber gloves when gardening.

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