Written by Indiana Lee
Your cat isn’t just a pet. She’s family. Now, however, that family is about to get bigger. You’re having a baby and you would do anything to keep that baby safe, healthy, and strong.
But what does that mean for you and your fur baby? Chances are, you’ve heard all the horror stories about the risks cats ostensibly pose to pregnant women and their unborn children.
You may wonder if you have to sacrifice your beloved cat to save yourself and your little one. The good news is that you don’t have to rehome or avoid your feline baby just because you’re growing a tiny human.
What you do need to do, however, is learn to separate fact from fiction when it comes to toxoplasmosis. That way, you’ll have the information you need to protect yourself, your baby, and your fur child.
What Is Toxoplasmosis and What Are the Risks?
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a common single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. It’s estimated that more than 40 million people in the United States alone may carry the parasite, but most will go through life without experiencing any symptoms at all.
However, persons with severely compromised immune systems and pregnant women are at increased risk for developing severe toxoplasmosis. Pregnant women may also pass the infection to their unborn children. A prenatal toxoplasmosis infection may, in rare cases, lead to significant disabilities, including congenital eye diseases.
Humans can be exposed to and infected by the Toxoplasma parasite in a myriad of ways. The parasite may be unwittingly ingested by eating raw or undercooked meat or seafood, through utensils that have been cross-contaminated by raw meat or unwashed fruits and vegetables, or by contact with contaminated soils.
Cats, Toxoplasmosis, and Pregnancy
One common misconception about toxoplasmosis is that all exposure to cats carries a risk of toxoplasmosis infection for pregnant women.
This is patently false. You can still hug your cat, pet and play with your cat, and brush and snuggle your cat as usual when you are pregnant.
Where you need to be cautious, in other words, isn’t with your cat at all. It’s with their litter box. The toxoplasma parasite may be shed in the feces of infected cats. However, the parasite shed in cat feces does not actually become infectious to humans for one to five days. Thus, changing or scooping the litter box daily can significantly reduce your risk of exposure to the parasite.
By far one of the best ways to prevent toxoplasmosis is to ensure that your cat doesn’t become infected in the first place.
Since cats generally acquire the parasite by killing and eating infected rodents, keeping your cat indoors can help prevent their exposure in the first place. You can create an indoor haven for your cat so that they’ll never miss the outdoors by providing lots of interactive toys as well as plenty of vertical space to keep them interested and occupied.
For an added layer of protection, if you are pregnant, you may ask another family member to take charge of scooping and changing the litter box. Clearing away the feces every day will get rid of the source of the parasite before it can become a threat to humans.
If you can’t find anyone to do the scooping and cleaning for you, then just make sure that you wear gloves while handling the litter box and also that you thoroughly wash your hands with hot water and soap immediately after you come into contact with the cat box.
As noted above, contaminated cat litter is by no means the only way for humans to become infected with the toxoplasma parasite. So, if you are pregnant, you should be proactive in guarding against the infection, even if you don’t have a feline friend in your home.
This means that you should always use gardening gloves and wash your hands after working in the soil. Handwashing is also crucial when you’re handling raw meat and seafood or unwashed fruits and vegetables. Utensils and surfaces that may have come into contact with these items also need to be immediately wiped down with antimicrobial soap.
Above all, you will want to follow all the standard measures for ensuring a healthy pregnancy. Eating a nutritious diet rich in essential vitamins and minerals, getting consistent, high-quality sleep, and taking prenatal vitamins can help boost your immune system. This, in turn, will decrease the likelihood of an active infection, even if you were to become exposed to this common parasite.
Misconceptions surrounding toxoplasmosis have separated far too many cats from the pet parents who love them. The good news is that understanding what toxoplasmosis is, how it is contracted, and how it can be prevented will empower expectant mothers with the information they need to protect themselves, their babies, and their felines.
Image Source: Pixabay (https://pixabay.com/photos/kitten-white-cat-cute-domestic-1285341/)
About the writer: Indiana Lee is a freelance writer and journalist with a wealth of experience in blogging, content marketing, and journalism.