There is still a lot of uncertainty and misinformation about cats and pregnancy, but here is the truth: it’s very unlikely that having contact with cats will make you catch a disease that will result in bad consequences for your unborn child. You have a higher risk of getting toxoplasmosis by eating undercooked meat than living with cats – dogs do not transmit the disease.
There is also a big chance that you have had contact with the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis before and didn’t even notice it. So, don’t even think about giving up your cat. But, of course, it´s good sense to take a few steps to avoid contamination if you have a feline at home.
What is toxoplasmosis and how does one become infected?
Toxoplasma gondii is the protozoal parasite responsible for causing the disease. A healthy person would probably have no symptoms if infected. BUT, in expectant mothers, the parasite can get through the placenta and get to the fetus causing complications such as hydrocephalus (aka water on the brain), vision loss, mental disabilities, and occasionally even death.
Cats are the natural hosts in which the parasite can reproduce. In addition to getting infected, they can also release oocysts (essentially the eggs from which new organisms are created) in their feces. In other animals, the Toxoplasma gondii will attach to muscles and stay there – spreading the infection through the consumption of their undercooked flesh.
To transmit the disease, the cat must be infected. There is an estimate that only 1% of cats carry the parasite (generally by eating other infected animals or raw meat). The Toxoplasma gondii eggs take 48 hours to complete their cycle and are ready to infect a person or another pet, and only by ingestion. Therefore, if you clean your litter box every day, your risk of catching toxoplasmosis is virtually zero.
Steps to avoid catching toxoplasmosis and other diseases
- Have your cat´s litter tray cleaned every day. Pregnant women should ask someone else to do it. If you must clean the litter tray yourself, wear gloves, use a shovel and wash your hands well.
- After petting or playing with your cat wash your hands (the same goes for touching the cat´s toys) to avoid accidental ingestions of possible parasites.
- Feed your cat with cat food or cooked meat, never raw. Try to keep your feline indoors.
- Keep your cat up to date with his vaccines and free of ticks and fleas, to avoid contamination.
- Don´t ingest raw or undercooked meat. After handling raw meat wash your hand thoroughly and do the same with the utensils you used (knives, chopping board, etc.)
- Try not to eat raw salads if you can´t supervise the cleaning process of the ingredients. You could choose cooked vegetables instead. If you´re going to have a salad at home, wash fruits and vegetables before eating them by filling your kitchen sink with cold water and adding 4 tablespoons of baking soda. Soak fruits and vegetables for about five minutes, rinse with cold water, and pat dry.
- Whenever you’re gardening or touching sand in a sandbox, wear gloves and wash your hands right away.
How do you know if you’ve had toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is not routinely tested for during pregnancy in all countries. If you have a cat or believe you have put yourself at risk, it is wise to talk to your doctor about it. The blood test aims to show whether certain antibodies indicating toxoplasmosis are present or not. If you have never been in contact with the parasite, the result will come back negative. And if you´ve had toxoplasmosis before getting pregnant, nor you or your baby are at any risk of harm.
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