Toxoplasmosis - Your pregnancy and your cat

Pregnancy is a special time filled with emotion and the anticipation of a new baby. It is also a time many women are cautious about health risks and behaviors which might affect the health of their baby. However, there is no need to give up your beloved pet if you follow a few common sense precautions.

What is toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a parasite disease caused by the single-celled protozoa called toxoplasma gondii.

How is it transmitted?
Cats are the only animal species to shed the infectious stage in their feces. This usually only occurs once in the lifetime of most infected cats, lasts only 10-15 days and the feces are not infectious until 1-5 days after being defecated. Human infections from direct contact with cats shedding the infectious stage are rare. Pet cats are NOT the most likely source of toxoplasmosis. All animals, however, can transmit toxoplasmosis if their infected meat is eaten. The most common ways humans become infected is if they ingest raw or partially cooked meats, or food, water or garden soil contaminated with infected cat feces.

What are the symptoms of toxoplasmosis?
It is estimated that 30% of people are exposed, with minimal or no symptoms, unless the infected person is young or their immune system is not functioning properly. The symptoms are flu like and include fever, enlarged lymph nodes, fatigue, headache and sore throat.

What if I'm pregnant?
You can be tested for antibodies to toxoplasma. If you test negative and become infected with toxoplasmosis during early pregnancy, you risk spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, or having a baby with birth defects. If a woman is infected in late pregnancy, she will most likely not transmit the disease to the fetus. If you test positive, you have already been exposed to toxoplasma in the past and therefore have built up antibodies to protect yourself and the fetus from infection. Therefore, you are NOT at risk.

Guidelines for the Prevention of Toxoplasmosis

  • Hands and cooking utensils should be thoroughly washed with soap and water after contact with raw or partially cooked meats.
  • Cook all meat thoroughly, especially pork products. Meat should not be tasted during cooking.
  • Feed your cat commercial pet foods only. Do not feed (him or) her raw meat or allow her to hunt for birds or rodents (you can attach a bell to your cat's collar to scare off prey). Better yet, keep your cat indoors.
  • Keep your cat's litter box away from the kitchen and eating areas.
  • Change the litter box daily. It takes the toxoplasma parasite at least 24 hours to become infectious. Wear disposable gloves to clean the litter box and wash your hands thoroughly with disinfectant soap afterwards. Better yet, have someone else do it during your pregnancy.
  • When replacing litter, disinfect the litter box.
  • If you have contact with your cat's feces, clean up the area with a disinfectant (one ounce of bleach in quart of water) and wash your hands thoroughly with disinfectant soap.
  • Children's sandboxes should be covered to prevent soiling by neighboring cats.
  • Don't drink milk that is not pasteurized.
  • Do not garden without wearing gloves. Thoroughly clean vegetables from the garden.
  • You can have your cat tested for toxoplasma by your veterinarian, if you wish. Keep all pets current with health exams and vaccinations.
  • Contact your obstetrician and/or veterinarian if you have any concerns about your health or the health of your cat.