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CPD article: Role of cats in human toxocarosis

02 November 2020
17 mins read
Volume 11 · Issue 9
Figure 1. Toxocara cati life cycle (artwork by Dr Sarah Sapp. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)).


Toxocara cati, the feline ascarid, is ubiquitous in domestic cats globally and is increasingly recognised as an important zoonotic species. In the definitive host, infections with the adult ascarid usually do not present any clinical signs; if clinical signs do appear, it is usually in kittens infected with T. cati, especially by the trans-mammary route. Diseases may include cachexia, a pot-bellied appearance, respiratory disorders, diarrhoea, vomiting, among other signs, and these may present as early as 3 weeks of age. However, infections with Toxocara spp. larvae in paratenic hosts (including humans and many other animals), can result in serious complications from the migration of larvae. Historically, there has been an assumption that Toxocara canis was the most likely cause of Toxocara spp.-related disease; while it is probably true that T. canis is responsible for the majority of infections, it is important that those caused by T. cati are accurately identified so that the contribution of this parasite to human disease can be established and then handled appropriately. Overall, the detection of infections in cats and the control of parasite stages in the environment are essential to minimise the infection risk to other animals or humans.

Toxocara is a truly ubiquitous genus of round-worms. The feline ascarid, Toxocara cati, is often considered as one of the most prevalent helminth parasites of Felis catus, the domestic cat. In addition, toxocarosis is increasingly recognised as one of the most common zoonotic parasitic infections worldwide, even in highly developed countries (Ma et al, 2020). However, much remains to be revealed on the contribution of T. cati with regards to the public health issue of toxocarosis. A better understanding of the extent of the problem, the biology and transmission routes of the parasite, epidemiology in cats, species-level diagnostic strategies in affected persons, and improving awareness among both clinicians and cat owners are pivotal in the implementation of control and prevention measures. In this article, we provide an overview of the basic biology, transmission, and clinical importance of T. cati in cats, as well as what is known regarding the zoonotic potential of T. cati and associated diagnostic challenges.

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