Pregnant Women: Don't Get Rid of Your Cats!
When I went to my first obstetrician appointment, I was bombarded with questions. The medical staff wanted to know all of my family's medical history, what my eating habits were, how much I exercised, and yes, whether I had any pets. The consultant's alarm went off immediately when I mentioned having cats. "Uh oh, be careful with those cats!" she said, "Don't change the litter box. Don't even go near it!"
Health care providers advise this because cats can carry a rare disease known as toxoplasmosis. Just a few short years ago, your provider would probably urge you to give away your cats, or have a friend or relative take care of them during your pregnancy. Thanks to a better understanding of cat health and human/cat relations, there's no longer a need to fear your favorite feline while pregnant.
What is toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a rare infection that can affect cats and be transmitted to humans. It's caused by a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you're probably "more likely to get toxoplasmosis from gardening or eating raw meat than having a pet cat." Wash your fruits and veggies, and wash your hands after handling raw meat. Probably not a good idea to wash your cat, though!
How I'm protecting my cats from toxoplasmosis
Fry loves, loves, LOVES raw meat! Unfortunately, raw or undercooked meat is a magnet for bacteria and yes, toxoplasma gondii. To keep Fry (and Leela, can't forget her) healthy and avoid infection, I keep them indoors to avoid exposure to infected wildlife and the feces of stray cats. I keep them up to date on vaccines, and I'm quick to call up my vet if I suspect either of my feline pals is sick.
If Fry or Leela did happen to get infected, the good news is that they would only pass the oocysts (the space shuttles the parasite travels in, if you will) for about two weeks. Those oocysts work a lot like your local bank's vault -- a certain amount of time has to pass before they "open," or are contagious. According to the Humane Society of the United States, those oocysts require an incubation period of one to five days before they are infectious. Easy solution there -- scoop at least once a day! On work days, I scoop twice, once in the morning and once right before bed. If I'm home, Fry usually insists on an extra scooping. (Psst ... you should be scooping at least once a day, anyway. Good litter box hygiene makes for a happy cat!)
How I'm protecting myself from toxoplasmosis
If you're pregnant and don't have any cats, it's probably not a good idea to get one until after you've had the baby, according to the CDC. When you're pregnant, your immune system isn't just protecting you anymore; it's working overtime to protect your baby, too! That can make you much more susceptible to everyday illnesses like colds and stomach bugs, so it's no surprise that your doctor (and family) want you to be extra cautious. Mine have certainly been full of advice, and their eyebrows always go up at the mention of the cats and their litter box.
Since toxoplasmosis in cats is transmitted through feces, you'd have to ingest it -- either through not properly washing your hands after changing the litter or by, well, picking it up and eating it. Who would do that?! I'm certainly not going to eat any cat poo! If you're lucky, pawn the nugget-scooping off on another member of your household. If you have to scoop, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
Why I'm totally keeping my cats
There's definitely no need to say goodbye to your feline friend (or friends) just because you're pregnant! In fact, your kitty might be a great comfort to you while you're experiencing some of the not-so-glamorous symptoms of pregnancy, like mood swings and fatigue. Many women report their cats being extra affectionate during these times, and it can be a great bonding experience for you and your cat. I can definitely vouch for that claim!
Fry has been especially attentive. I've had several days where I've been exhausted and nauseous, and Fry will hop onto the couch next to me, nuzzle my face, and curl up around my belly. His warm and fuzzy presence is super comforting. After the baby is born, your kitty can be a great pal for your new baby to grow up with, giving you an excellent opportunity to teach her about being kind to animals, being a responsible pet owner, and the rewards loving them brings.
Don't buy into the fear
If the ASPCA, the CDC, and the Humane Society of the United States have all failed to persuade you it's safe to keep (and be around) your cat during pregnancy, maybe fellow Catster authors can! This article shows you that even the smartest of us (Stanford University, anybody?) can buy into the hype. You can read more about the crazier side of the toxoplasmosis hype here, or check out JaneA Kelley's latest article, dripping with good humor and sense!
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