I think this point needs to be made again. In fact, it needs to be made over and over again because, despite my best efforts and the efforts of others, women still have a misconception about being around cats when pregnant. But note that as I am a cat lover, I might be a little biased despite my best efforts to remain objective 🙂 .
The reason why pregnant women are particularly concerned about being around cats is because a toxoplasmosis infection in a pregnant woman can result in abortion, stillbirth and birth of babies with a central nervous system infection. Also, cats are the only animals to pass on the infectious stage of this parasite through their faeces. The serious consequences of an infection has led to an incorrect assumption that pregnant women should not be around domestic cats.
However, the best experts in the world, the people I personally trust, say that if you are pregnant it is not necessary to get rid of your cat. Firstly, most human cases of the infection come from eating raw or undercooked meat particularly pork and lamb. Also unpasteurised dairy products can be a source of this infection. Fresh vegetables need to be washed carefully because oocysts can cling to bits of soil and the soil can be on vegetables.
Now for the important bit. It is important for people to understand the mode of transmission from cats to humans because it informs us as to how minimal the risk is.
I will quote the words of a very experienced veterinarian just to make sure that I have this completely correct.
“Even a cat with an active toxoplasmosis infection is only capable of passing it on for seven to ten days of her entire life, when there is an acute infection. It takes anywhere from one to three days for oocysts shed in the faeces to become infectious – which means the litter box would have to sit unscooped from one to three days before the infection could be passed on. Then, to become infected from cat faeces, a person would have to touch the faeces and then touch an opening in their body.”
Women can take precautions to avoid contact with cat poop by wearing gloves when gardening and cleaning the litter box. Or ask someone else to do these things while you’re pregnant.
To prevent the parasite a cat should not be fed raw meat or allowed to hunt. Indoor cats who only eat cat food are unlikely to ever be infected. As for treatments, antibiotics such as clindamycin are available to treat an active infection and to prevent the intestine phase of oocysts shedding.
About half the human adult population shows serological evidence of having been exposed in the past. “Serological” means in the blood serum, which is the clear liquid that separates from the blood when it is allowed to clot.
In conclusion, pregnant women do not need to get rid of their cats. They can be around cats. They just have to take some sensible precautions and this page I think explains the situation clearly. One problem is that cat haters frequently like to use toxoplasmosis to denigrate the cat and to turn people away from keeping domestic cats. There have been many scare stories and articles on the Internet about how toxoplasmosis infects the human brain and makes people mad etc.. These are nearly always written by cat haters and/or ornithologists in my view. By all means read them but do so with caution and take their findings with a pinch of salt.
P.S. The experts I refer to are the authors (veterinarians) of the respected “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook”. Buy it.
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