It’s one of the most disheartening phone calls we receive, and it never fails to break my heart. Between tears of joy and sadness I hear: “I’m pregnant Dr.. Z… Can you find my cat a new home?”
How long we spend on the phone depends on the case and how many other crisis we’re fielding at that moment, but the short answer is this: It’s SAFE to keep your CAT.
Or, as Dr. H puts it #LoveMyBabyLoveMyCat.
Here’s the science: Most mammals and birds are susceptible to T. Gondi infection. Some animal species, such as Australian marsupials, arboreal monkeys, and lemurs are highly susceptible to toxoplasmosis.
While it’s true that cats are the only domestic animals that can transmit the rare parasitic disease toxoplasmosis through their feces (unless you happen to have any domesticated mountain lions, bobcats, Bengal tigers, or jaguarundis running around the house, since they are the other definitive hosts. In which case, please invite us over – we’ll be happy to make a house call just to see them!).
Toxoplasmosis usually doesn’t make cats or healthy humans sick, but since infection in a pregnant woman can cause miscarriage or birth defects, even a slight risk should be taken seriously.
The thing is, you’re far more likely to contract toxoplasmosis from eating undercooked meat or unwashed fruits or vegetables than you are from changing your kitty’s litter box, especially if your cat never goes outside, which is the case of most of our patients.
“To get toxoplasmosis from your cat requires a lot of things to happen,” explains internist Dr. Jeff Kravetz, an associate professor at Yale and self-described cat lover who has had two since before his wife delivered their two children. “It has to eat a mouse or something else that’s living outdoors and actually has toxoplasmosis. If you have an indoor cat, there’s almost no risk at all, unless you have a mouse running around your house.”
Plus, toxoplasmosis isn’t a chronic or recurring infection. If your cat happens to contract it, which usually occurs in its first year of life, not the 19th, it will excrete the parasite’s eggs in its feces for only a week and, after that, Dr. Kravetz notes, it’s immune for the rest of its life.
In other words, the chances of catching it are vanishingly small. To reduce the chances even further, here are a few more tips:
- This is a golden opportunity to have someone else take over litter box duty. If that’s not an option, we recommend buying a box of those plastic gloves they seem to sell everywhere. Wear them and then still wash your hands in warm, soapy water afterwards.
- This goes for washing fresh fruits and veggies as well. Please peel or wash fruits and veg before eating them.
- Don’t feed raw or under cooked meat to cats.
- Avoid eating raw or under cooked meats yourself. Ditto for oysters, mussels or clams.
- Don’t drink un pasteurized goat milk and don’t feed it to your cats.
- Wear gloves when gardening.
- Last but not least, use soap and hot water to wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, counters, and your hands after they’ve come in contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, or unwashed fruits and vegetables.
For more information about pets and pregnancy and babies, check out the Humane Society’s website at humanesociety.org
A new baby is a wonderful blessing, and with just a little extra caution there’s absolutely no reason for it to be an eviction notice for your feline family member. There’s lots of Life ahead to share as a family! #LoveMyBabyLoveMyCat.