Are you pregnant, or know someone that is? Congratulations! It seems that when someone is pregnant, they and their significant other are all the sudden so much more aware of their body and making sure they are in optimum health. After all, there is a baby growing in there now! A common behavior nowadays with the internet being so readily available is to research like crazy about what to expect, what to eat, how much to exercise, staying healthy, and eek- what sicknesses to watch out for so nothing harms the baby.
Chances are, if someone has done enough research, or already started meeting with their doctor, the subject of pets comes up. Some questions might be; What do I need to watch out for doc? Is there anything I need to be cautious about with the pets? How can I prepare our pets for the new arrival? If that person is a cat owner, their doctor has likely already talked to them about Toxoplasmosis. Let’s talk a little more about this infection, where it comes from, and what to do to keep mom and baby safe.
Please Note: This post is purely informational and is not meant to be considered medical advice. If you have any health concerns about your pet, please consult a professional veterinarian.
According to WebMD.com, Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the Toxoplasma Gondii parasite, which is found in some small animals. Cats can catch this parasite if they are indoor/outdoor cats that like to hunt birds and other small animals, or if they encounter the feces of another animal that is infected with this parasite (as in share the same location to poo as a maybe stray cat would). Basically, cats could become infected by either eating a small animal with this parasite, drinking contaminated water, or ingesting the parasite as they are grooming themselves. Indoor cats that have no exposure outdoors have a very, very low risk of getting this parasite.
So, how could this parasite be transmitted to humans?
Humans can become infected in similar ways that a cat can get the parasite; drinking contaminated water or eating undercooked contaminated meat, or handling cat feces from a cat that has been infected with this parasite and not practicing proper hygiene or sanitization procedures. The parasite does have to be ingested in order for it to cause infection. Ways to become infected with Toxoplasmosis include:
- Activities such as gardening and not washing hands well.
- Not properly washing garden vegetables.
- Handling a sandbox or dirt area outside that cats use as their litterbox, and not properly washing hands.
- Handling an infected cat’s litterbox in the house without properly sanitizing.
- Eating raw meat contaminated with the parasite.
- Not thoroughly cleaning your counters (when your infected cat has been exploring them).
What happens if someone gets infected with this parasite?
The parasite can cause an infection in a human’s body by causing cysts to form in the brain and muscles, including the heart. Yes, a person’s body can fight this infection, so this parasite is more likely to cause problems in folks with suppressed immune systems such as cancer or HIV patients, or elderly folks. Children with poor personal hygiene or poor handwashing could also be at risk. However, pregnant women are a concern as this infection can be spread to the developing baby. If the unborn baby is infected with this parasite, it could cause complications with the brain, eyes, and other organs of the developing baby.
Slow down now, don’t run out and dump the cat at the shelter! Toxoplasmosis is out there but an uncommon thing you hear about and there are solutions and safe practices that can be followed! In fact, the Companion Animal Parasite Council states the people are more likely to get toxoplasmosis from ingesting contaminated undercooked meat or unwashed garden vegetables, than from handling infected cat feces. Not to say it won’t happen or that you shouldn’t be cautious, but it is less likely.
How do I know if my cat has Toxoplasmosis?
Like with humans, if a cat has a healthy immune system they may not show any symptoms of the parasite. Luckily, according to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, the prevalence of the parasite in the fecal shedding stage in cats in the United States is very low- around 1%. Cats that are infected with toxoplasmosis can get a fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, and experience lethargy. Because these are symptoms of many other types of infections, usually a trip to the veterinarian is in order to determine if anything else could be going on before just jumping right to toxoplasmosis.
What practices are recommended for pregnant cat owners?
Basically, both the WebMD website and the Companion Animal Parasite Council recommend pregnant cat owners do not handle the cat litter box cleaning duty. Pregnant individuals can still feed and interact with their cats, just have someone else do the poop-scooping. Of course, personal hygiene and handwashing are extremely important, and regular house cleaning is important as cats tend to walk/jump on everything in the house!
Other safe practices
- Prompt cleaning of the litter box, in general, will help because the parasite needs at least 24 hours before it can transform into an infective stage.
- The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends that pet owners do not feed their cats raw meat as the meat could be contaminated with this parasite or other parasites. They recommend feeding a commercial diet for your pet. If your cat is on a special diet and you are concerned about the risk, talk to your veterinarian.
- Discourage your cat from eating small animals as they may be infected by this parasite.
- Discourage your cat from meeting strays that share the same location to poop outside- such as if you have a sandbox, cover it up when not in use. If you have a garden that you are noticing the cats are liking, put down some nontoxic cat repellant such as citrus, cayenne pepper, lavender, or coffee grounds.
- When you are gardening outside, wear gloves and wash your hands afterward.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables from your garden thoroughly before eating.
- If you are pregnant, do not adopt a kitten or an adult cat that appears sick as you don’t know how strong their immune system is. Wait until after the baby is born!
An all-around happy family
With proper precautions in place, cats can co-exist just fine with expectant moms and the family. As always, all family members need to practice good personal hygiene and house cleaning habits. Someone other than the expectant mom gets to handle the litter box cleaning for kitty, and otherwise, life can be as normal in the cat-owning household, even with a new one on the way! If you have any major concerns about your health or your cat’s health, always consult a doctor or veterinarian for further, more specific information, as each person has their own individual living situation they are dealing with. Now that we know a little more about Toxoplasmosis and how to reduce the risks, mom and baby (and kitty) can go on about their adventures! For those expecting- congratulations on your new bundle of joy coming and thank you for putting the effort in to learn more about keeping your family healthy!
Special thanks to WebMD and The Companion Animal Parasite Council for information in regards to Toxoplasmosis. I inserted the hyperlinks to these articles above.