Let's face it...no one enjoys cleaning the litter box! When I was pregnant, I had absolutely no problem with letting my husband take over the nasty job. But, what that really necessary? Read on to find out!
The reason for all of the worry is a protozoan parasite called toxoplasmosis. Normally, if a person gets infected with toxoplasmosis they can get some of the following symptoms:
Often, the symptoms are very mild and are similar to a virus such as a cold. However, if a pregnant woman gets toxoplasmosis then there are several risks to the fetus including:
You would think that the most common place for a woman to pick up toxoplasmosis is from a cat. However, this type of transmission does not happen often. The most common way for a person to get toxo is to ingest raw or poorly cooked meat from an animal that has toxoplasmosis cysts in their muscle. The most common types of meat that can carry toxoplasmosis are lamb or pork.
Your cat can get toxoplasmosis from eating raw meat (including mice). If a cat ate a mouse who had toxo cysts in its muscle then the cat can end up getting toxo. If a cat gets the organism they can shed toxoplasmosis cysts in their feces for about 5 to 14 days. After 24-48 hours, these cysts can become infectious to people. If a cat gets toxo a second time, they do not tend to shed cysts are are not infectious.
In order for a pregnant woman to get toxoplasmosis from a cat there are three ways for this to happen:
One other possible source of toxoplasmosis is from soil that has contained infected cat feces. It is possible to get infected by gardening, getting cat feces on your hands, and not properly washing your hands before eating. Similarly, if vegetables were grown in the soil and they came in contact with the cat feces, then if they were eaten without being washed, toxoplasmosis cysts could be ingested.
Toxoplasmosis is most dangerous if picked up during the first trimester, but can affect the fetus at any stage in pregnancy.
I don't recommend testing a cat for toxoplasmosis because the results don't really tell us anything. If a cat has a positive toxo test, this means that he is already infected and is not likely shedding cysts. (Therefore, he's not contagious. Remember, the cat only sheds the organisms during the period of 5 to 14 days after eating the infected meat.)
A negative toxo test doesn't tell us much because the cat could still get infected at any point if he eats an infected piece of meat. (But, keep in mind that this is quite rare.)
When I initially posted about this article on my Facebook Page, one of my readers asked an interesting question. Could a person get toxoplasmosis from ingesting mouse feces? The answer is no, and this is why:
While the chances of a pregnant woman getting toxoplasmosis from cleaning out the litter box are small, it's still a good idea to have someone else clean the box if possible. If you do not have someone else to clean the box, you can take the following precautions:
When I first wrote this article I was under the assumption that a woman getting toxoplasmosis was extremely rare. However, some research shows that 23% of the North American population has been exposed to toxoplasmosis. (Most likely the vast majority of these cases did not come from cats, but rather from eating undercooked meat.)
Remember though, that toxo is only dangerous to a pregnancy if a woman picks it up during her pregnancy. If you already have a positive toxo titer, this is a good thing. It's only women with no previous exposure who are at risk.
It is difficult to find numbers on the incidence of birth defects or stillbirths caused by toxoplasmosis because it is not a condition that doctors are required to report. I have read that anywhere from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 10000 births are affected by toxoplasmosis. This is actually a much higher number than I expected!
Occasionally I have seen families who have decided that they need to get rid of their cat because they are worried about the risk of toxoplasmosis. This is really not necessary. Take the precautions listed above and the chances of infection are almost none.
Remember, the most common source of toxoplasmosis infection is eating undercooked meat, especially lamb and pork.
My daughter is now a grown girl and my husband still cleans the litter boxes in our house. This was a good habit to start!
Dr. Marie was quick to respond and thorough in suggesting treatment for my cat. I am so thankful- I have been so worried about my cat. Now I have additional options to discuss with my vet.
The service was incredibly fast and the vet's suggestions were right on target. This was incredibly helpful given that none of the vets in my area, mine now included, will take off hours calls now.