Pregnant women and cats… You may have heard the rumors, but what threat does a cat pose, if any, to a pregnant woman? What are the real dangers of having a cat in the house while you or someone in your family is pregnant? Read on and find out!
A pregnant woman will need to take extra precaution against contracting Toxoplasmosis during her pregnancy. However this doesn’t mean that a cat can not live in the same house with a pregnant woman. There are many very simple and easy tips that you can do to make sure that Toxoplasmosis is not spread (if your cat even has it which he or she may not) to the expectant mother. Keep in mind that a pregnant woman can also contract Toxoplasmosis from unpasteurized milk products, and uncooked or undercooked meats such as lamb or pork. So cats do not pose the only risk to women as far as Toxoplasmosis is concerned, and in fact a woman is more likely to contract Toxoplasmosis from a source other than a feline.
So what is Toxoplasmosis? Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasitic protozoan called Toxoplasma gondii. Feline infection by Toxoplasma gondii is fairly common, however we rarely see disease caused by this parasite (generally disease is see in kittens, the old, and immuno-compromised animals). The parasite is seen in three different forms: cyst, oocyst or tachyzoite. Most felines contract toxoplasmosis from meat that is raw and/or contaminated with any of the three stages of parasite. When a cat ingests such meat (raw meat, a rodent, other prey) that is infected with the parasite, the parasite moves to the wall of the small intestine where it will grow and mature. At this point the cat will excrete oocysts (in high numbers) in his/her feces. These oocysts are what is infective to other animals and humans (pregnant or not).
The best way to avoid Toxoplasmosis is to simply avoid any possible contact with feline feces. Thus a pregnant woman’s best defense is to make sure not to change the litter or clean the litterbox, and to not bring any new cats into the home during the pregnancy. These simple steps in conjunction with taking care to not eat uncooked or undercooked meats, or unpasteurized milk products should be enough to keep mom-to-be safe from any potential infections.
Women can also have a Toxoplasmosis test done before or once they know they are pregnant. If the expectant mother has had cats or has been in contact with cats in the past she may have already been exposed to Toxoplasma gondii. If so she probably already has antibodies to Toxoplasma gondii. This is the best case scenario. If a woman already has antibodies against Toxoplasmosis and if she is exposed again (even while pregnant), the antibodies will fight off the parasite and thus she will have little to no chance of becoming ill or passing Toxoplasmosis to her unborn child. Having a Toxoplasmosis test will tell her if she already has antibodies or not.
You can also have your cat tested. The same rules apply for cats. If the cat tests positive for antibodies then he has already been exposed and thus has a very low chance of contracting the parasite again. However if your cat tests negative and if he then comes in contact Toxoplasma gondii in the future he could become infected and could also then shed oocysts in his feces.
The bottom line is that if your or someone in your house becomes pregnant you don’t need to immediately give up your cat. You may want to have both the pregnant woman and the cat tested for Toxoplasmosis. And as a safety precaution simply make sure that mom-to-be stays away from the litterbox at all times whether it be to change the litter or clean the litterbox. That won’t be too hard will it ladies?