Cats and Pregnancy: Why The Fuss?
I’ll never forget sitting in one of my masters classes at Duke back in 2010 hearing about the cautions of having a cat as a pet when you’re pregnant. I remember thinking, “Wow. Good thing I have a dog instead!” considering I knew I one day wanted to be a mother. So, what’s the big deal?
One word: toxoplasmosis.
You’ve probably heard about it (and if you haven’t, well, now you have). But do you really know what that means? This topic sparked conversation within my own family just recently as my older sister is pregnant with her first child. And, of course, she has an 11-year-old cat. So, she’s often telling me about the precautions she’s taking while she's got her bun in the oven (AKA the constant nagging of her husband to take care of the cat). Since there are several mamas and mamas-to-be out there reading my blog, I felt compelled to also share the knowledge with those that may have cats or are considering getting a cat.
Toxoplasmosis gondii is a nasty little parasite often found in cat feces. At one point or another, some of us have probably come in contact with this bug as it’s fairly widespread. However, we often only hear about it when we are talking about pregnant women. That’s because its during pregnancy when your immune system takes a hit (just by nature of being pregnant) and you’re more likely to experience serious health issues from it.
How do you get it from your cat?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that you can “accidentally” swallow the parasite (um..yikes) by cleaning the kitty litter box (or by touching anything that your cat’s feces could have touched) without washing your hands with soap and water afterwards. You can also get toxoplasmosis infections from eating raw or undercooked meat or ingesting any food, soil, or water that has been contaminated.
What are the symptoms?
A pregnant woman who has come into contact with toxoplasmosis could experience the following:
- No symptoms
- Flu-like symptoms with swollen lymph nodes >1 month
- Visual disturbances (blurred vision, decreased visual acuity, redness, etc.)
- Brain damage (if severe infection develops)
- Miscarriage or severe disease in the fetus (developmental delays, blindness, seizures)
What does the CDC say about whether to keep your cat or not when pregnant?
The CDC reports it IS safe to keep your cat (phew!), but there are several precautions they recommend taking. Here are a few tips:
- Frequent and good handwashing!!
- Have someone else change the kitty litter daily (NOT you!). If nobody can help, then wear gloves and then wash hands after
- Keep cat inside
- Avoid adoption/stray kittens (probably not the best time to be getting a new cat...)
- Do not feed your cat raw or undercooked meats
- If you have an outdoor sandbox, cover it
- Wash your fruits and vegetables before eating them!
If you have concerns about your potential for toxoplasmosis, contact your OB-GYN as there is testing and treatment available. For more information on toxoplasmosis prevention, visit the CDC’s website or check out this flyer:
Note: The views in this post are based on my own opinion and research and do not replace the recommendations of your doctor.
Main Photo by: Paige Walker Photography