SINGAPORE - In this fortnightly column, veterinarians from the National Parks Board answer questions about pet health and behaviour
I have heard I can get toxoplasmosis from cats. Should I get rid of my cat if a member of my household has recently become immunocompromised?
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the single-cell parasite Toxoplasma Gondii (T. Gondii), which can infect both humans and animals.
Humans and other animals can become infected with toxoplasmosis via multiple avenues, including the ingestion of undercooked, contaminated meat or shellfish; contaminated soil or water; and congenital transmission or accidental ingestion of the parasite through direct or indirect contact with contaminated cat faeces.
Toxoplasmosis generally does not manifest clinically in healthy individuals, but can cause long-term health problems in pregnant women and immuno-deficient people and animals.
Cats become infected when they ingest infected prey or raw meat and shed T. gondii oocysts (parasite eggs) in their faeces. Newly infected cats usually begin shedding oocysts three to 10 days after consuming infected meat and continue shedding for 10 to 14 days. These oocysts become infectious after 24 hours.
Cats that do not hunt prey or consume raw meat are unlikely to be infected with T. gondii. The chances of humans developing toxoplasmosis via their pet cats are relatively small, as infected cats shed T. gondii oocysts for only a short time - fewer than 30 days - and the oocysts in their faeces are not immediately infectious.
Frequent removal of faeces from the cat's litter box and observing good personal hygiene, such as wearing gloves and washing hands thoroughly after cleaning, will help minimise the possibility of infection.
In a nutshell, owning a cat does not mean you will be infected with toxoplasmosis. A pet is for life and it would be irresponsible to get rid of your cat, as the exposure risks are generally low.
There are many simple preventive measures that can be taken to avoid accidental exposure. Household members who face a higher risk of infection can be encouraged to avoid contact with cat faeces and wash their hands after interacting with the cats.
If you have concerns about toxoplasmosis in cats, approach your veterinarian for advice.
Can I feed a dog bones?
While chewing on bones can keep dogs entertained and maintain some level of dental hygiene, it is not advisable to give them to dogs without first seeking veterinary advice, as there are many potential risks and health hazards.
Raw bones may contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, listeria and campylobacter, which can be dangerous for both humans and dogs and can be transmitted through dog saliva or faeces.
Cooked bones should never be given to dogs as they are brittle and splinter easily when chewed. The sharp fragments can damage and even pierce a dog's mouth or gastrointestinal tract, which will require immediate and major veterinary intervention. Damage to the gastrointestinal tract can also result in internal bleeding and abdominal infection, which can be fatal.
Ingestion of bones - both raw and cooked - can also pose a choking hazard and cause blockage or obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract. This could result in choking; constipation, which is painful and traumatic, and may require veterinary intervention; or major or complete blockage of the stomach or intestines, which requires invasive abdominal surgery.
In addition, chewing on bones increases the risk of broken teeth in dogs, as bones are very hard. Certain types of bones are also high in fat content and may increase your dog's propensity for developing health conditions such as pancreatitis and obesity.
Furthermore, not all breeds of dogs are suited to chew on bones, due to their anatomical differences.
Instead of offering bones to your dog, consider alternative methods such as regular brushing of your dog's teeth and products like veterinary dental treats and toys to keep them entertained.
Check with your veterinarian for methods that suit your dog.
• Questions and answers by Dr Grace Yam, a veterinarian from the Animal and Veterinary Service under the National Parks Board.
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