Generally, we veterinarians aren’t in the business of contradicting physicians. But this is one area where our specialized training in diseases with zoonotic (cross-species) potential grants us the right to make a qualified exception.
Toxoplasmosis is a disease that results from infection with the Toxoplasma organism, a one-celled protozoan parasite with potentially devastating consequences to a human fetus. Anything from miscarriage to blindness can result from this infection.
Pregnant women can be exposed to the parasite after gardening and ingesting tiny bits of Toxoplasma-tainted soil from their unwashed hands, from eating undercooked or raw meats infected with the organism, and by orally ingesting even minute quantities of infected feline feces.
Strict attention to basic hygiene (hand-washing after handling cats) and letting someone else take on litterbox detail are 100 percent effective in preventing transmission (indeed, no evidence exists in the human literature to support Toxoplasma infection from cats under these circumstances).
To ensure your safety, there are some basic tests I recommend to ensure that you’re never exposed (and which may well free you of all your doubts). Testing your cats for antibodies to the Toxoplasma organism (a simple blood test) almost always reveals that your lifetime-indoor kitties have never been exposed to this pest. They will therefore be incapable of transmitting the disease to you.
Alternatively (or additionally), a test can be performed by your doctor to see if you carry antibodies to this parasite (as was my case, after a childhood spent playing in sandboxes and a lifetime of handling cat stool). If you have a positive titer (a high antibody level against the disease) it’s almost as good as having been vaccinated against it –– so you’re typically in the clear.
To support my claims (as I almost always have to do when I'm forced to contradict a beloved physician), I always advise my clients to check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose Web site supports the keeping of indoor cats in spite of the risk of toxoplasmosis. Too bad even this sage organization can't seem to convince the naysaying OBs to change their recommendations.
Dr. Patty Khuly