So You're Pregnant --
and You Live With a Cat

Remember that old wives' tale that pregnant women should get rid of their cats to avoid contracting toxoplasmosis? Many of our ASPCA/catfriend guests remember. "I have had conversations with friends who believe it," says one, "and I am worried that the myths still seem to be circulating. Could you please clarify this issue?"

I certainly can, with help from the ASPCA's Veterinary Advisor, Lila Miller, DVM.

"Toxoplasmosis is a protozoan parasitic disease that can cause birth defects in the developing fetus," explains Dr. Miller. "The disease is spread by the consumption of infective oocysts, or tissue cysts, found in contaminated feces, soil, or raw and undercooked meat. But humans are much more likely to contract the disease by eating raw or undercooked meat than from contact with infected cat feces. It is also comforting to know that infected cats will shed the oocysts for two weeks only -- and the oocysts require at least 24 hours outside a cats body to become infective."

To eliminate the risk of infection, Dr. Miller offers the following precautions for pregnant women and any immuno-compromised individuals:

  • Wear disposable gloves while cleaning the litter box, gardening, or handling childrens sand boxes in which cats may have defecated. You can buy a big box of them at a drugstore and they're not too expensive.

  • Remove feces from the litter box daily. (You should be doing this anyway...and if the litter box is used by two cats, it should be cleaned 2x/day). More than 2 cats in your household? You need another litter box. No more than 2 cats per litter box.)

  • Wash your hands after handling the litter box, contaminated soil or sand; wash the way you're supposed to if you want to avoid catching germs of any kind -- use very warm water with soap for about 15 seconds before rinsing them.

  • Keep cats indoors to prevent hunting and the consumption of contaminated meat.

  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat in general, especially Pork and Lamb.

  • Avoid feeding unpasteurized milk, raw or undercooked meat to cats.

  • And finally, if possible, delegate litter box cleaning to someone else in the household...and that goes for the gardening as well.

Here's a little more information on this pesky parasite....

[March of Dimes, November 2005]

Toxoplasmosis is one of the most common infections in the world. More than 60 million people in the United States may be infected. However, most have no symptoms, so they may not know they are infected. A small number of infected individuals develop symptoms that resemble the flu or infectious mononucleosis, including swollen glands, fatigue, muscle aches, malaise and fever. These symptoms may last for a month or longer. Active infection normally occurs only once in a lifetime, followed by life-long immunity (protection). You may already have such immunity and can be tested for it. For more information on this subject, visit the March of Dimes web site.

Dr. Miller also points out that clinical signs of toxoplasmosis in cats can be vague and nonspecific, and include fever, lethargy, depression and weight loss. If your cat has any of these symptoms, it may be infected or it may be sick with something else; at any rate, it's smart to get your pet checked out by your veterinarian if it has any of the aforementioned symptoms.

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THE CAT CO.® 2005