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C2004-35

Dear Christopher Cat

I am planning to become pregnant with my first child, and I was told to have my cat checked for toxoplasmosis. When I took him in, the veterinarian said that I, not my cat, should be checked. Now what?

Christopher Responds

Infectious disease physicians recommend that expectant mothers, rather than their cats, be tested for two reasons.

First, you are more likely to be exposed to Toxoplasma, an organism that can harm your unborn child, by eating undercooked meat than by cleaning your cat’s litter box.

Second, cats excrete “Toxo” in their feces for only about two weeks after the first time they ingest the organism in uncooked meat – which for me means mouse meat. So for most of our lives, we can’t spread Toxo even if we have it.

Toxoplasma is usually only transmitted to an unborn child the first time the woman is exposed to it. So if you already have antibodies before you get pregnant, the risk is minimal.

Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to fully cook meat and wash produce. During pregnancy, let someone else scoop the litter box, or take precautions to avoid fecal exposure if you do.

The Centers for Disease Control has more information at www.cdc.gov; search for “toxoplasmosis fact sheet.”

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