TOXOPLASMOSIS Disease an economic problem for sheep owners (Lamas too? ed.)

Reprint from Fence Post, February 18, 1991 - Vet Column.

One area where sheep producers can drastically improve the overall health and financial standing of their flocks is through the religious practice of toxoplasmosis control methods, said Dr. J.P. Dubey, a speaker at the American Sheep Industry Convention in Long Beach January 20.

"Toxoplasmosis is everywhere.  But that's understandable when you look at how resistant the disease is and how easily it's spread," said Dubey.  Cats are the main carrier, and that's a monumental problem in itself.  "Cats are everywhere and diagnostic test have revealed that at least one/third of all cats in the U.S. carry toxoplasmosis oocysts." said Dubey.

The disease is spread to sheep when their food, water or grazing areas come in contact with cat feces.  Once in the sheep's system, it becomes the number one cause of spontaneous abortions.  "For this reason, the toxoplasmosis disease is an economic issue for producers," said Dubey.

Although it's impossible to totally eliminate toxoplasmosis, there are steps you can take to cut down on the frequency and range of contamination.  Dubey's number one rule is --keep cats out of feed barns and feed areas.  Other steps you can take in reducing the spread of toxoplasmosis include the immediate disposal of cat feces--the disease-causing organism "comes alive" after a 24-hour period.

If a sheep becomes infected and a spontaneous abortion results, wear gloves while handling dead lambs afterbirth--the disease is transmissible to humans.  The effects vary widely from flu-like symptoms to miscarriages for pregnant women and birth defects for unborn children.  Dubey said you should also submit dead lams and afterbirth for diagnosis; use exposed ewes for future breeding--they are now immune to the disease's effects after the initial experience and bury or burn dead animals--do not leave them for the birds to eat.  This will further spread disease when a cat ingests and infected bird.

Dubey had on last thing to say about the disease, "Let's not blame cats.  I'm not advocating that we get rid of them."  The disease is actually spread by birds, rabbits and small rodents female cats often bring back to their kittens.  And for that reason, Dubey said control the number of cats you have on your place, especially female cats allowed to breed.  Dubey also advocated neutering and spaying of cats to better maintain a constant population.


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