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Family Cats and Pregnant Women: Take Measures to Prevent Toxoplasmosis Infection

image of cat and pregnant lady's belly.

Nothing must spoil the joys of becoming a new parent. Not even your pets. But family cats with normal, every day habits can pose a risk to expectant women. Women's immune systems can be disturbed by a parasite carried in fecal matter. If you're the primary caretaker of your family's feline friend it may be time to ask for help.

Toxoplasmosis is a disease that can be transmitted from cats to humans by ingestion of undercooked meat products or contact with the stool of a contaminated cat. Toxoplasmosis can cause serious problems during pregnancy.

Cats allowed to roam outdoors are more likely to carry the parasite responsible for the toxoplasmosis infection. They can hunt and kill mice and rats during the nighttime hours. When the rodents are infected with the Toxoplasma parasite, a cat ingesting the diseased rodent can spread this infection through its fecal matter to humans. Pregnant women have an increased sensitivity to the dangers of that contamination.

Cats living in an outdoor environment are also defecating outdoors. They habitually bury their stool in flower beds, gardens and other soft soil areas. Women who are pregnant must be aware that contact with dirt that has been used by an infected cat is also a danger. Keeping cats indoors will eliminate their exposure to potentially infected rodents and decrease your chance of coming into contact with the toxoplasmosis parasite.

"More that 60 million men, women, and children in the U.S. carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness," advises the United States Center for Disease Control. Appropriate testing can help your doctor determine the potential impact on your immune system.

The Center for Disease Control recommends that specific measures be taken to prevent exposure to the toxoplasmosis infection. The CDC's preventative measures include:

  • Avoid changing the cat's litter yourself whenever possible.
  • Wear gloves if you must change it yourself.
  • Wash your hands immediately after changing the litter.
  • Wear gloves when you are outside gardening, planting flowers, vegetables, weeding or in contact with soil that could be a potential source of contamination.
  • Keep litter boxes outside your home covered.
  • Delegate changing the cat's litter to another family member.
  • Change the litter on a daily basis because the parasite is most infectious in just-eliminated fecal matter for at least the first five days.
  • Keep Fluffy or Garfield inside your house, apartment or condo throughout your pregnancy.
  • Wear gloves and/or wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meats.

"The risk to the baby increases the later in the pregnancy the new infection is acquired," says Michael Richards, DVM. Check in with your veterinarian early in your pregnancy to ensure a healthy infant.

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