Cats and pregnancy

  • Jun. 22, 2011 12:00 p.m.


Occasionally cats end up at a shelter because a woman has learned she’s expecting and she’s heard that cats carry a disease that could harm her baby.

There are so many things to worry about when you’re expecting.

Luckily, giving up your cat doesn’t have to be one of them. Proper precautions are all that’s needed.

Toxoplasmosis is an infection that can (‘can,’ not ‘will’) be transmitted from cats to humans via the litter pan. It’s caused by a parasite and it commonly causes very mild, flu-like symptoms that last only a few days.

If an expectant mom gets toxoplasmosis, it can cause a miscarriage or birth defects in her baby. But congenital toxoplasmosis is rare.

Cats get the parasite if they eat contaminated raw meat, birds or mice. Indoor cats who eat only prepackaged food will not get it.

While cats are the only species that shed the infectious stage of toxoplasmosis in their feces, other animals can spread the disease if their infected meat is eaten without proper cooking.

Eating undercooked meat is the most common cause of toxoplasmosis, not the family cat.

Actually, the odds of catching it from your cat are low. When a cat is exposed for the first time, he will excrete the oocysts, which cause the infection, and he will do so for only two weeks.

Once a cat has had toxoplasmosis, he acquires immunity and can only rarely be reinfected.

An outdoor hunting cat is often exposed as a kitten and is less likely to transmit the infection as he ages.

Furthermore, the oocysts must incubate for one to five days to become infective, so if a cat’s litter is changed daily, exposure to infective oocysts is unlikely.

The incubation only starts when the oocysts leave the cat’s body and have access to oxygen.

Lastly, stroking your cat will not expose you to infection.

So, considering the possible routes of infection –  raw or undercooked meat, contaminated soil, and cats – the following steps should keep you and your baby safe during your pregnancy:

• cook meat well (to at least 70 degrees C) and avoid raw cured meat such as Parma ham;

• wash your hands, utensils and work surfaces after handling raw meat;

• avoid unpasteurized milk/milk products;

• wash raw produce;

• wear gloves when gardening and wash your hands after;

• cover kids’ sand boxes so cats aren’t tempted;

• have someone else clean the litter tray while you’re pregnant.

If there is nobody else to clean the litter tray, you can still do it safely.

Use disposable gloves, and use a mask just to make sure you don’t ingest any litter dust stirred up by scooping.

Empty the litter tray daily and soak the tray for five minutes with boiling water (don’t rely on chemical disinfection).

If you empty the tray daily, then even if a cat is excreting oocysts, they will not have sporulated and will not be infectious yet.

Lastly, wash your hands after removing the gloves.

If you follow these precautions, you and your baby can both enjoy your pet while your little one grows up.


Brigitta MacMillan is a volunteer at Katie’s Place, an animal shelter.