Pregnant women who own cats have likely been warned about the risk of toxoplasmosis by their doctor. We built this information page to help you more fully understand the risks of caring for a cat while pregnant with your child.
What is Toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by infection by a single-celled organism called Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite common in many mammals including man. According to the CDC more than 40 million Americans are currently infected with Toxoplasma, but nearly all are unaware because their immune systems keep the parasite in check. Issues with infection usually only occur in two groups of people: immunocompromised individuals and pregnant women.
Toxoplasmosis and Pregnant Females
The offspring of women who become infected with Toxoplasma gondii during pregnancy are usually born without symptoms of infection, but may develop issues later in life. A small percentage of babies infected in vitro are born with eye issues and/or brain damage. Doctors usually test pregnant women for Toxoplasma. According to the CDC, there is little worry of spreading infection to an unborn baby if the mother has already been infected. Risk is much higher if the mother becomes infected by toxoplasma gondii just before or during pregnancy.
Sources of Infection by Toxoplasma gondii
Toxoplasma gondii is usually transmitted by ingestion of the parasite through contaminated meat and shellfish. The disease can also be contracted by touching animals infected with the parasite and then transferring the parasite from one’s hands to one’s mouth. Drinking water, undercooked meats and seafood, and contaminated eating utensils can also be a source of infection. Lastly, some infected domestic cats can pass the parasite in their stools. If the stools are allowed to dry in the litter box or if they are contacted outside (while gardening, for example), there is a slight risk of hand-to-mouth transmission by the person in close contact with the cat stool, but according to the CDC, this risk can be safely minimized (see below).
Should I Get My Cat Tested For Toxoplasma If I Become Pregnant?
When you bring your cat to Brookfield Animal Hospital, we’ll talk to you about your cat’s lifestyle and how your cat and your family typically interact. Based on that information, we’ll advise you whether testing for Toxoplasma gondii is necessary for your cat.
Can I Continue To Care For My Cat While I Am Pregnant?
Provided you practice good hygiene when handling your cat’s litter box, it is very unlikely that you would be at risk of infection by Toxoplasma. Infected cats do not frequently pass the parasite in their stool and it is only after at least a 24 hour drying out period that the parasite is readily transmittable through the stool to humans. At the time of this writing, the CDC does not find that there is any significant risk of infection by Toxoplasma to pregnant females by their cats provided they practice the following safety measures.
- Do not feed your cat raw meats or seafoods.
- Thoroughly wash your cat’s food bowl when he or she is finished eating.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after emptying your cat’s litter box.
- Do not leave stool in the litter box for more than 24 hours.
- Wash your hands after you finish handling or petting your cat.
Here are links to additional information about Toxoplasma gondii in pregnant women:
- Center for Disease Control: Toxoplasmosis FAQs
- American Veterinary Medical Association: Toxoplasmosis
- Mayo Clinic: Toxoplasmosis in pregnant women
If you live in the Brookfield area and have additional questions about your cat (or dog), please call us. We enjoy interacting with pet owners and we’re happy to help!
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