Pregnancy Isn’t an Eviction Notice for the Family Cat

Written by Dr. Susan Nelson

Dr. Susan Nelson of Kansas State University wants to debunk the myth that cats and pregnant women can’t safely coexist.

A positive pregnancy test often comes with a negative view of the family cat due to toxoplasmosis fears-and not without reason.

Felines are definitive hosts of Toxoplasmosis gondii, which, according to the centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infects an estimated 60 million plus people in the United States. Most infected people with healthy immune systems experience only mild symptoms, if any. But in pregnant women, toxoplasmosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and severe eye and nervous system problems in the child.

Despite the risks, Susan Nelson, DVM, clinical professor at Kansas State University’s Veterinary Health Center, says in a recent university release that many pregnant women have been mistakenly advised to give up their cats.

“Toxoplasmosis can be a devastating disease, but with proper precautions, a woman does not need to rehome her cat if she becomes pregnant,” Dr Nelson says.

The release notes that cats aren’t even the most common way people become infected. Raw meat, unpasteurized goat milk, raw vegetables, contaminated water and gardening are the most common sources.

Dr. Nelson offers a list of safety precautions directed at the general public, not just pregnant women:

Change your cat's litterbox every day.

Infected cats can shed millions of microscopic T. gondii oocyts in their feces, and it takes one to five days for these oocysts to become infective after being shed. Pregnant women should avoid changing the letterbox, if possible. If not, they should wear disposable gloves and wash their hands with soap and water afterward.

Cats pick up the T. gondii parasite by eating rodents, birds and small animals, so keep your cat indoors.

Don't feed your cat raw or undercooked meats.

Don't adopt or handle stray cats while pregnant.

Keep outdoor sandboxes covered so cats are unable to defecate in them.

Freeze meats at subzero temperatures for several days before cooking, then cook them to recommended safe temperatures.

Peel or wash fruits and vegetables before eating.

Don't eat raw or undercooked oysters, mussels or clams.

Don't drink unpasteurized goat milk, and don't feed it to cats.

Use soap and hot water to wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, counters and your hands after they have come in contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood and unwashed fruits or vegetables.

Wear gloves when gardening and while coming in contact with soil or sand that could be contaminated with cat feces. Wash your hands afterward.

Instruct children to wash their hands to prevent infection.