Pregnancy is a time of joy, but for many women, a time of unprecedented worry. Along with the admonitions about caffeine, lunch meat and wine, many pregnant women are told they should get rid of their cats because of health risks. With a few basic safety precautions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that pregnant women do not need to give up their cats.
Most concerns about cats have to do with an organism called Toxoplasma gondii, a microscopic parasite carried by cats. If a woman is exposed to the organism for the first time during pregnancy, the organism can pass to her unborn baby and cause severe medical problems.
When a cat is first exposed to the Toxoplasma organism, it sheds the organism in its feces for approximately two weeks. Once shed in the feces, it takes one to five days before the organism develops into the infectious state. After that single period, they are no longer infectious.
Women who have been exposed to Toxoplasma before becoming pregnant are not at risk of infecting the baby. A blood test exists to determine if you have been previously exposed. In order for a woman to pass on Toxoplasma to her baby from her cat, both the cat and the woman must be exposed for the first time during the woman's pregnancy.
Common sources of infection include undercooked meat, unwashed produce and ingestion of oocytes (the infectious agent) while gardening -- usually not from the family cat.
If you are pregnant, here are some of the basic steps recommended by the CDC to minimize exposure to Toxoplasma:
- Change the cat litter daily. Better yet, have a housemate take over litter duties for the duration of the pregnancy.
- Cook meat thoroughly.
- Wash hands frequently, especially after gardening.
- Avoid feeding your pet raw meat.
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang is a small-animal veterinarian from San Diego. When she's not at work or with her family of two and her four-legged creatures, you can find her blogging about life with pets at PawCurious.com. Dr. Vogelsang's blogs have previously appeared on The Daily Cat.
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