Cat lovers who become pregnant are all too often regaled by tales of the terrible things that can happen during their pregnancy — because of their cat.
The myth about cats giving pregnant women toxoplasmosis has been causing misery for a long time, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). While it is within the realm of possibility that pregnant women can transmit toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease, to their unborn baby, experts agree that the risk is far lower than people think — and it's absolutely no reason to give up one family member for another.
"The risk of contracting toxoplasmosis from pet cats during pregnancy is extremely low and manageable," Cory Smith, director of pet protection and policy, companion animals, at HSUS, told The Dodo. "Assign litter box duty to someone else in the household if possible, and if not wear gloves while scooping the box and wash hands immediately after. Keep the litter box as clean as possible by scooping daily and replacing the litter as often as possible."
Mostly, though, Smith urged avoiding undercooked meat, which is "the most common source of toxoplasmosis." And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees: If you're really worried about toxoplasmosis, don't eat undercooked meat.
Dr. Robert Proietto, a veterinarian in New York City, wholeheartedly agrees that pregnancy is no reason to give up a cat. "Getting rid of your cat when pregnant is pretty ridiculous. They are important parts of the family," Proietto told The Dodo.
According to Proietto, toxoplasmosis can be found in the feces of cats who get it from ingesting rodents and birds. Many women who become pregnant and have cats have been exposed to toxoplasma well before pregnancy, and so the baby and the mother have immunity to it and it will not cause infection. There is a blood test to determine if someone has been exposed.
"During pregnancy, women should not clean the litter box because of the risk of contracting the infection," Proietto said. "The box should be cleaned regularly. If they have no other choice, then gloves should be worn. As always, proper hand washing should be performed after handling any soiled material." (With a baby on the way, you might as well get used to this.)
Seeking consultation with medical professionals about this topic is always a good idea, according to Proietto, "as there is no reason to give up on one member of the family while preparing for another one on the way."
Here are some tips from the Humane Society that can help keep everyone in your family healthy:
- Don't eat undercooked meat.
- Wash all uncooked vegetables thoroughly.
- Wash all cutting boards and utensils that might have come in contact with meat before using them.
- Wear gloves when gardening or working in soil, or at least wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
- Ask your spouse, friends or neighbors to help out with scooping the litter box.
- If you don't have help, wear rubber gloves when changing the litter and thoroughly wash your hands afterward.
- Have your cat's litter changed on a daily basis.
- Keep your cat indoors.
Whether there might be other (adorable) hazards involving cats and the results of pregnancy …
… well, it's still too early to tell.