Dear Pet Column,
I am pregnant and have heard rumors that cats pose a threat to an unborn child as they carry a disease that may lead to birth defects or miscarriages. Is this true – do I have to give up my cat?
No, you do not have to give up your cat because you are pregnant, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Unfortunately many women hear this rumor and cats like me suddenly find themselves sitting in a shelter wondering what they did wrong. By understanding the facts you can keep both furry and non-furry babies!
The disease you are referring to is called toxoplasmosis. Although transmission of this disease to a pregnant mother can lead to the concerns stated above, the risks are of contracting it are far greater from consuming uncooked meat than from your beloved cat. The risks of infection from your cat are extremely low and with a few precautionary steps can easily be avoided.
Cats can become infected by the disease from eating rodents, birds, soil or other contaminated meat. Once contaminated they dispel cysts in their feces for about two weeks – after which time they typically acquire an immunity, (and cannot be re-infected) and are no longer transmitters of the disease. Furthermore, the cysts in their feces take 1-5 days to become infectious, thus, cleaning the litter box daily further reduces risk of contagion.
Several additional factors keep the chance of transmission low. The risk to cats is limited to outdoor cats who hunt and eat rodents, or cats who are fed raw meat by their owners. An outdoor hunting cat is often exposed to the disease at a young age and is, therefore, less likely to transmit the infection as he ages. Cats and people can both be tested and, when positive for carrying the antibodies of this disease, the risk in contracting the disease is eliminated for both parties.
I offer the following tips to minimize your risk of contracting toxoplasmosis, as found in the Humane Society of the United States published guide, Toxoplasmosis: A Practical Guide for the Clinician, written by Dr. Jeffrey D. Kravetz, Yale University School of Medicine:
- Don't handle or eat uncooked or undercooked meat.
- Clean cutting boards, counters, plates, and utensils that have been in contact with meat.
- Have someone else clean the litter box daily.
- If you must clean the litter box, wear rubber gloves and follow with a thorough hand washing. Scoop feces as soon as you can, and at least daily, since it takes one to five days for feces to become infectious.
- Feed cats only commercially prepared cat food or well cooked meat.
Now, if you will excuse me, I must return to my other tasks here at the Second Chance Shelter. In addition to writing this week’s Pet Column I am also responsible for making sure I get my belly rubbed regularly, that I purr and roll about while getting my lovely red and white coat brushed, and that I communicate to all visitors that I am the cuddly and affectionate cat of their dreams. (This Pet Column has been brought to you by Chuck, a handsome 5 year young adoptable feline…)