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Dear Christopher Cat

I just learned that I’m pregnant.  I know I don’t have to give my cats away, but I’m uncertain about what precautions to take when cleaning the litter box.  Can you help?

Christopher Responds

Congratulations on your newest family member! 
Pregnant women should avoid exposure to the one-celled protozoan Toxoplasma gondii. Infection during pregnancy can cause many problems, including blindness, seizures and mental retardation in the child.

Cats may become infected when we eat raw meat (like mice and birds), though we usually show no clinical signs.  We only excrete the organism the first time we are infected, and then only for 10-15 days.

“Toxo” is transmitted to people by ingestion, most commonly through eating raw or undercooked meat infected with the organism.  It can also be transmitted by drinking infected raw goat’s milk or by inadvertent ingestion while gardening or cleaning the litter box.

Some people have antibodies protecting them from new infections, so you might ask your physician about a blood test. 

Pregnant women, especially those without antibodies, should take these precautions:

·  Do not eat or taste raw or undercooked meat.  Wash hands, utensils and surfaces that come into contact with raw meat or produce.
·  Wash hands after gardening, and wash vegetables before eating them.
·  Prevent your cats from eating rodents, birds and other raw meat.
·  Wear gloves when you empty the litter box – or better yet, have someone else in the family do it. 
·  Toxo organisms don’t become infectious until at least a few days after they are excreted, so scoop litter daily.  Wash hands afterwards.
·  Cover children’s sandboxes so cats can’t use them as outdoor litter boxes.

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