Do pregnant women really need to steer clear of cats and kitty litter?

October 17, 2013 12:00 AM by

During a pregnancy, all kinds of information and advice is going to come your way, whether you're doing research, talking with friends or chatting with family members. Somewhere in this barrage of facts, opinions and pure fiction, you may hear about how it's not safe for pregnant women to be around cats or kitty litter. If you have a furry friend in your home, this may be worrisome – do you really have to give up your cat during pregnancy? Here's what you need to know.

The culprit is Toxoplasma gondii
It's not really your cat who's responsible for this warning – it's a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that's behind a disease known as toxoplasmosis. This parasite is found across the globe, and many people may be infected, but it's usually not a problem for healthy immune systems to prevent it from causing sickness. Pregnant women, however, should be more careful about contracting the parasite, since it can cause serious symptoms for the mother and birth defects and other health issues for the baby.

It's found in undercooked meat, drinking water and cat feces
People can contract the parasite from eating undercooked meat that's been contaminated, as well as water that's been exposed to the parasite and cat feces from a cat who ingested the parasite. Cats who eat raw or undercooked meat, whether it's from your fridge or from prey animals, can be exposed to the parasite. While you're not likely at all to get the parasite just by petting a cat, it is possible to become infected if you come in contact with an infested cat's feces. This might be in his or her litter box, in your child's sandbox or even in your garden, as some outdoor cats choose to use these areas as bathrooms.

It's not hard to prevent yourself from getting it
The good news is, you don't have to get rid of your cat when you're getting ready for baby. Indoor cats who only eat canned or dry food have minimal risk for carrying the parasite. Still, it's wise to be cautious about how you handle cleaning your cat's litter box. If you can't get someone else to do it for you while you're pregnant, be sure to wear gloves and avoid getting any debris on your clothing. Wash your hands afterward, too. Of course, you should also be cautious about eating or handling raw meat, and always wash vegetables that you pick from your garden.

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