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Toxoplasmosis, Pregnancy and Cats
While surfing around the internet, one can read pleas of concerned cat owners. "I'm pregnant and have a cat. Should I worry?"
“My husband when he found out that I was pregnant told me we had to get rid of the cat!” reports another.
“I’m pregnant and I heard that scooping cat poop will harm my baby” wails Malinda.
Toxoplasmosis, recently pushed to the forefront by the media has become a major focus for most pregnant cat owners. Questions ranging from; what is the prognosis and the recovery rate? How to go about preventing toxoplasmosis in cats and humans are not helped when the doctor tells the pregnant patient that the house cat needs to go.
This type of advice from well-meaning (but misinformed) health professionals has led to the popular opinion that pregnant women should not own cats. Although evidence clearly shows you are more likely to contract toxoplasmosis from drinking contaminated water, handling or eating incorrectly prepared meat or eating unprocessed dairy foods, the cats still receive the brunt of the blame.
Dr. Lorie Huston DVM reports: “Sadly, I still have clients who come to me telling me that their physicians are advising they get rid of their cat because they are pregnant.”
There is no need to find a new home for your cat if you are pregnant. Following good hygiene, wearing rubber gloves while handling litter pans and scooping pans daily removes the risk.
What is toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasma gondi is the protozoa behind toxoplasmosis. The cats come into contact with this protozoa by eating small prey; rodents, birds and reptiles. They can also drink contaminated water, eat raw meat or unprocessed dairy foods and become a live host. According to the newly revised, Cat Veterinary Handbook, by Debra M. Eldrege, DVM, Delbert G. Carlson, DVM Liisa D. Carlson, DVM and James M. Griffin, MD it is important to note that once a cat is infected, he can only pass these oocysts out of his body for seven to ten days of his life. These oocysts appear in the feces of the cat. They are not contagious until exposed to air for 24-48 hours, so daily scooping of boxes is a must.
Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis in cats:
Symptoms in people:
In immune-compromised people the symptoms also include:
How is toxoplasmosis spread to people?
People can get toxoplasmosis from drinking contaminated water, eating raw meat, not washing raw fruits and vegetables or not wearing gardening gloves and also ingesting raw dairy foods. For pregnant women, the toxoplasmosis offers only a small risk to the fetus. According to the CDC over 60 million people in the United States could have toxoplasmosis. The majority are asymptomatic. If in the rare instance a fetus is infected, the child may be born with birth defects or damage to the eyes, ears or brain. The fetus could be aborted depending on which trimester the infection occurs. Toxoplasmosis in human/cat contact is rare. Should toxoplasmosis occur, only a small fraction of infants are infected with even a smaller percentage showing clinical signs. (Less than 1%) according to Niels C. Pederson’s Feline Husbandry-Diseases and Management in Multi-cat Environment.
For (AIDS/HIV) patients, the risk is a bit greater. Experts advise you get tested if you believe you have been infected.
How is toxoplasmosis spread to cats?
Cats can come in contact with infected feces. They are hunters and their prey contains this protozoa. RAW diets eating unprocessed diary foods or a vegan diet can put them at risk. Drinking contaminated water is another source of infection. If kept inside and fed processed foods, it is unlikely the cat will encounter toxoplasmosis.
Testing in cats-
The feces are tested for the appearance of T. gondii oocysts. If found, the cat is in the contagious stage. A blood test will further reveal if the cat has been exposed to toxoplasmosis or just has an active immunity. If the cat has an active immunity the cat is NOT contagious. It can’t be emphasized enough! Cat poop from infected hosts is not contagious until 24-48 hours AFTER being passed. Therefore daily scooping of the litter pan prevents infection.
Testing in people:
There is a blood test available indicating risk. Another blood test checks for antibodies to the T. gondi parasite (present only after you have been infected).After infection, these antibodies remain in your body and you are immune. There is no treatment for toxoplasmosis except in pregnant women. Generally your body’s immune system kicks in and sheds the disease.
Dr. Lorie Huston DVM adds; “The sad part about toxoplasmosis and pregnant women is that the risk from a cat that has been part of the family for a long period of time is really very low. And there are some very simple precautions that can minimize that risk even further, like letting someone else clean the litter box. There really is no justification, in my opinion, for recommending that a family give up their cat because of a pregnancy.”
In the case of toxoplasmosis and pregnancy use common sense when it comes to handling and cleaning litter pans. Clean litter pans with boiling water and bleach and air dry. Cherish this time of a new life growing within you and don’t get rid of your cat in the process.