Once and for all, no, pregnant women don’t need to “get rid” of their cats, or put them outside! Here are the facts.
Q: I’m pregnant with our first child, and my mother-in-law says we should get rid of our cat because of the risk of toxoplasmosis. Is she right?
A: You can safely keep your cat. Toxoplasma is an internal parasite that lives in the muscles of sheep, rabbits and rats. Cats who eat the meat of an infected animal can spread the parasite through their feces. If your cat lives indoors, she’s unlikely to become infected. And in most cases, only young cats pass feces contaminated with toxoplasma eggs (oocysts). If you have an adult cat, the chance of infection is very low.
Veterinarians are well informed on this subject, possibly even more than doctors, because they learn about toxoplasmosis at least four times during their education: in courses on feline medicine, parasitology, zoonotic disease and public health — including meat and food safety. I can assure you that female veterinarians and veterinary technicians don’t stop working with cats when they are pregnant. You can take the same easy precautions they do to reduce the risk of infection to the developing fetus.
- Delegate litter-scooping duty to your spouse. (Do this before the pregnancy when attempting to conceive.)
- Have your spouse scoop the litter box once or twice daily. Toxoplasmosis organisms need time after being passed in the cat’s feces to become infective. Frequent scooping minimizes the risk that the oocysts will be around long enough to become infective.
- Keep your cat indoors to prevent her from hunting and eating wild prey.
- Whether you’re cooking for yourself or your cat, cook lamb or rabbit meat well. And wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling raw lamb or rabbit, just as you would with chicken, beef or other meat.
These precautions apply to anyone who is immunocompromised, not just women who are pregnant.
There’s more – including how to get a dog in the COVID era – in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.