Image via iStock.com/WTolenaars
By Jennifer Coates, DVM
If you’ve ever been told that cats and pregnant women do not mix, rest assured that the person who told you this wasn’t entirely correct. While it’s true that you need to put some safety measures in place, there’s no reason to get rid of your cats when pregnant. In addition to being unnecessary, rehoming a beloved pet due to pregnancy would be upsetting for everyone involved.
What is Toxoplasmosis?
The chief concern surrounding pregnancy and cats is the disease toxoplasmosis. It is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii.
Toxoplasmosis in cats is rarely a serious problem. Healthy, adult cats often show no symptoms at all, but potential signs include eye abnormalities, diarrhea, fever, difficulty breathing, jaundice and neurologic abnormalities.
Toxoplasma gondii is a zoonotic parasite, which means cats who carry Toxoplasma gondii can pass it on to people. If infected by this parasite for the first time while pregnant, a woman could either miscarry or give birth to a child with birth defects.
While this sounds terrible, the reality is that you’re more likely to “catch” the disease from undercooked meat than from your cat. This is particularly true if your cat lives indoors, since cats get the parasite from eating infected prey.
If a woman has already been infected by the parasite in the past, being exposed to it again during pregnancy will not be a problem. Women can get tested for exposure at the beginning of their pregnancy to know how concerned they need to be. Even with a negative test result, there’s no need to avoid cats. All women have to do is take some simple precautions to reduce the chances of exposure and infection.
Precautions for Pregnant Women and Cats
Cats have to eat infected prey to become carriers of the disease, so one way to protect yourself is to keep your cat indoors. If you prepare any meat for yourself or your cat, make sure it is thoroughly cooked. It’s safest to offer your cat commercial cat food (not raw) for the duration of your pregnancy.
Since the parasite is spread from cats to people through cat feces, avoiding the cat litter box is also a good way to prevent the disease. If you live with someone, ask them to take on the duty of cleaning the cat litter.
If it’s not possible for someone else to take over the job, consider the following:
- Self-cleaning litter boxes: Once you and your pet get used to a self-cleaning litter box, you may never want to go back. While early models may have been a bit clunky, newer designs are much more user-friendly. The ScoopFree Ultra self-cleaning litter box, for example, has safety sensors so the cleaning cycle won’t be initiated until 20 minutes after your cat has exited the box.
If your pet is particularly frightened by the unexpected noises these boxes sometimes make, try an option like the . This box was created to minimize noise and moving parts for cats who don’t appreciate loud noises.
Keep in mind, however, that with most self-cleaning litter boxes, you’ll still need to dispose of the litter trays and the waste that collects in the covered compartment, as well as clean the inside of the box.
If you’re concerned about disposing of the waste and cleaning the box, look into a product like the . This box scoops, liquefies and flushes the cat waste by itself. You won’t need to touch the litter ever again.
Keep in mind that you can’t use regular cat litter with a product like this. It will require , designed specifically for this self-flushing box.
- Scent-free, clumping litter: If your cat is adamantly opposed to self-cleaning boxes, be selective about the cat litter you choose. Pick a cat litter that is less likely to get stuck to your cat’s paws and therefore be spread around the house. When you do scoop, make sure to use disposable gloves and wash your hands afterward.
You’ll also want an odor control cat litter that discourages dust. Options like BoxiePro Deep Clean scent-free probiotic clumping cat litter and Boxiecat extra strength scent-free premium clumping clay cat litter are both ideal for this purpose.
- Scoop the litter box after each use: Toxoplasma parasites do not become infectious until at least 24 hours after they are shed in the cat’s feces. By scooping the litter box after each use, or at least once a day, you can decrease the chances of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite becoming transmittable.
- Cat litter disposal systems: Anything that effectively and quickly contains the mess from your litter box is advisable. Litter disposal systems are a good way to contain both the odor and potential pathogens in cat feces. The Litter Genie Plus cat litter disposal system, for example, uses an eight-layer bag to lock away the contents of the pail. If you have other pets or young children in your home, you might want to choose a cat litter box enclosure system with childproof locks on the lid. The LitterChamp premium odor-free cat litter waste disposal system is one such option.
By utilizing cat supplies like these, women can safely be pregnant with cats in the same household. Pregnant women and cat litter may not go hand-in-hand, but if you take precautions, there’s no need to rehome your feline companion.