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Are Cats Dangerous to Pregnant Women?

By: Pet Place Staff

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Your cat is a part of the family, but now you wonder if it's safe to keep her if you're pregnant. If this is a concern of yours, and it is a common one, you can relax. Your kitty can stay right where she belongs.

However, there are some precautions you will want to take if you are pregnant. The most common concern people have regarding their cat is the risk of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that cats can carry and pass along when they eliminate in the litter box or garden. The risk of toxoplasmosis, or toxo as it is commonly called, is why pregnant women are discouraged from cleaning the litter box.

This parasite is extremely common, and it is important to know that exposure to toxoplasmosis can also come from eating or even just mishandling raw or undercooked meat. In fact, about 22 percent of people in the United States have had the parasite, including 10 to 15 percent of women. This is why you should always wash your hands, the surface of counters, utensils and other cooking implements if in contact with meat. Additionally, you should also wear gloves when working in a garden. Pets or wild animals may have deposited the parasite in the soil, and the organism can live for years in the right climate (toxoplasmosis thrives in warm climates).

The toxo parasite rarely affects a healthy adult person (if it does, seek medical attention), but it can have devastating effects on a fetus. The parasite can cause eye inflammation leading to blindness, and calcium deposits in the brain, leading to mental retardation. The parasite can also cause spontaneous abortions.

How Can I Protect My Cat?

Outdoor cats and feral cats are at greater risk of getting toxoplasmosis but kittens have a greater chance of becoming severely ill or dying. Outdoor cats are naturally more exposed to the parasite, because they are more likely to eat an animal that already has the parasite. Here are other ways you can protect your cat from exposure:

  • Feed your cat only dry, canned or cooked foods. Don't ever feed your cat uncooked meat, entrails or bones.

  • Keep your cat from hunting wildlife. Bells on the collar can alert wildlife to a preying cat, but the safest and surest way is to keep your cat indoors.

  • Secure trash containers to prevent your cat from scavenging the garbage.

  • Remove carcasses of rodents or birds before your cat can get to them.

    If your cat becomes ill from toxoplasmosis, she may act depressed, run a fever and struggle to breath. She may also have an inflammation of the eye, which would cause her to blink and squint excessively.

    How Can I Protect Myself?

    Preventing exposure is simple.

  • Have someone else clean the litter box while you are pregnant, if possible.

  • Wear gloves when cleaning the litter box, and take care not to touch any part of your body, especially the face. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

  • Remove bowel movements from the litter box within a 24-hour period of their being deposited.

  • Rinse the box with scalding water once weekly.

  • Do not take in or touch stray cats or unfamiliar cats. They may be carrying the parasite.

    By taking these measures, you should not have problems. Some physicians will do a "toxo" titer before pregnancy to determine prior exposure. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, women who test positive for toxoplasmosis won't have to worry about passing it on to the fetus because they already have the necessary antibodies.

    To learn more about how toxoplasmosis may affect your cat, please click on Toxoplasmosis.

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