I’m Pregnant, Can I Still Keep My Cat?
Toxoplasmosis is a potential illness that expectant mothers face during their pregnancy. The infection can affect the health and development of their unborn child. Felines are one of the primary carriers of Toxoplasmosis. Some obstetricians tell cat-owning patients to re-home their pets to reduce the risk of infection, but is this necessary?
Not at all.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says pregnant women don't have to give up their cats as long as they follow the right precautions to prevent a Toxoplasmosis in their homes.
What is Toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is an illness caused by the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii. The microscopic parasite infects people after they come into contact with cat feces in litter boxes. An infected person can spread the protozoa to others. Other sources of infection include contaminated soil or raw meat.
This disease impacts people differently. Healthy adults may suffer from mild flu-like symptoms. Others show no signs of infection. Infected patients with compromised immunity may develop severe medical issues.
Most unborn children don't suffer health complications if their mothers contract Toxoplasmosis six months before pregnancy. Their parents have built up antibodies against the infection. They also pass their immunity to their unborn child. The disease can only harm a fetus if a woman gets infected several weeks before pregnancy or during the gestation period.
According to the March of Dimes, between 400 and 4,000 babies in the United States are born with toxoplasmosis (also called congenital toxoplasmosis). Toxoplasmosis infects fetuses through the placenta. As the pregnancy progresses, their risk of infection rises. It is 15% during the first trimester, 30% in the second trimester, and 60% in the third.
The illness may cause severe childhood health issues. A baby may not show signs of Toxoplasmosis at birth, but they can develop health problems later in life. These issues include eye diseases, brain damage, deformities, and blindness.
Infected mothers can miscarry because of Toxoplasmosis. Women recently infected with toxoplasmosis should wait at least six months before trying to conceive.
How Toxoplasmosis Spreads
Outdoor and feral cats are the main carriers of toxoplasmosis. Felines spread toxoplasmosis when they eat an infected bird, rodent, or animal. This parasite travels through the intestinal system and spreads through cat feces. They can produce millions of parasites for three weeks after a Toxoplasmosis infection.
The contagious phase of Toxoplasmosis only lasts for a few days. It takes a minimum of 48 hours for the oocysts to become infective. Cats who contract the illness will only shed the organism for a small period of time.
Previously infected cats are less likely to spread the disease. Human beings can be exposed when emptying soiled litter boxes. They can get infected after touching contaminated soil during gardening. Other sources include water, raw meat, and unwashed vegetables and fruits.
Treatments for Toxoplasmosis
According to the CDC, only 15% of women are immune to Toxoplasmosis. Infected women can take medications if you contract the illness during pregnancy. Doctors will monitor their children and conduct follow up examinations. You should have your cat screened for Toxoplasmosis if you're thinking about conceiving. Schedule an appointment with South Boston Animal Hospital. Our experienced veterinarians can test whether your feline companion has the pathogen.
Tips to Avoid Toxoplasmosis Infections
Pet owners should practice good hygiene to avoid Toxoplasmosis infections. Pregnant women should follow eight tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid toxoplasmosis infections.
- Toxoplasmosis cysts need a 48-hour incubation period before they can infect hosts. Clean the litter box every day to reduce the possibility of infection.
- Avoid any direct contact with cat feces. Pregnant women shouldn't clean litter boxes; instead, ask another household member to do it.
- Always use gloves to clean your cat's litter box if you can't avoid the task. Wash their hands with soap and hot water after changing the litter.
- Pregnant women must wear disposable gloves before touching garden dirt or sand because it could contain cat feces.
- Expectant mothers should not give their cats any raw meat, only provide them with dry or canned commercial cat food.
- Avoid all stray cats, especially kittens. Pregnant women shouldn't adopt new cats during their gestation period.
- Keep current cats indoors, so they don't get infected.
- Place covers on your children's sandboxes to prevent cats from defecating in the area.
How to Avoid Toxoplasma Infections from Other Sources
It's possible, although unlikely, for people to get Toxoplasmosis from their pets' litter boxes. Contaminated food, water, and soil are the primary sources of infection. Here are some tips to reduce your chances of contracting the illness through food sources.
- Pregnant women shouldn't eat uncooked meat while pregnant. Use disposable gloves when preparing raw ingredients to avoid infection. Clean your hands afterward.
- Wash or peel all vegetables, fruits, and herbs.
- Heat raw meat to safe temperatures to kill pathogens. The USDA recommends that pregnant women should use a food thermometer since color is not an accurate measurement of temperatures that can kill parasites. Cook all whole cuts of meat (excluding poultry) to at least 145° F (63° C) in the thickest part. Allow it to rest three minutes before carving. Ground meat (excluding poultry) should be cooked to 60° F(71° C) and poultry to 165° F (74° C).
- Freeze meats for several days at sub-zero temperatures below 0° F. The cold temperatures will help kill some parasites. Freezing meat, however, doesn't kill every pathogen. Cooking the meat is the surest method to get rid of them all.
- Sanitize all cooking areas, dishes, and utensils.
- Never drink untreated water.
- Don't eat undercooked seafood (oysters, clams, mussels) since these can be infected with Toxoplasmosis.
- Always wash your hands before eating or handling any food.
Your pet is an essential part of the family. If you're about to start a family, contact South Boston Animal Hospital. Our veterinarians will perform an annual wellness check to ensure your lovable feline is a healthy friend for your children. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.
About Dr. Natalie Waggener
Dr. Natalie Waggener has 17 years of experience in emergency work and general practice in Rhode Island, Florida and Massachusetts. She has a special interest in dentistry, wellness care and rehabilitation therapy. She is currently licensed in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.