Dear Christopher Cat
I am pregnant, and my obstetrician recommends that I give away my cat. He’s concerned she’ll transmit Toxoplasma, and that it will harm my unborn child.
I adore my cat and can’t bear the thought of giving her away. Is there any safe way for me to keep her?
Yes. Avoiding Toxoplasma gondii, a microscopic protozoan, is relatively simple.
Even so, your obstetrician’s concern is justified, because a woman first exposed to Toxoplasma during pregnancy can give birth to a child who develops seizures, mental retardation, blindness or other ailments.
Toxoplasmosis isn’t a problem for us cats, because we’re naturally superior. Even though we may become infected when we eat diseased prey, we don’t get sick.
However, for a couple weeks after our initial infection, we excrete Toxoplasma in our feces.
Humans can inadvertently ingest the organism, for example, while cleaning litter boxes or gardening.
Toxoplasma also lives in animal tissue, and it’s even more common for people to ingest the organism when they eat raw or undercooked meat or drink unpasteurized milk.
Thirty to 50 percent of women have antibodies that protect their unborn children. Your obstetrician can advise you about a blood test.
Pregnant women, especially those without antibodies, should observe these precautions:
- Cook meat thoroughly. Scrub hands, utensils and surfaces that contact raw meat.
- Wash your hands after gardening, and wash produce before you eat it.
- Keep your cat indoors, and don’t let her eat rodents, birds or raw meat.
- Have another adult empty the litter box. If that’s not possible, wear a surgical mask and gloves, and wash your hands afterward. Scoop daily, because Toxoplasma isn’t infectious until more than one day after excretion.
- Cover children’s sandboxes so cats can’t use them as outdoor litter boxes.
If your obstetrician thinks a cat like me can’t know about toxoplasmosis, educate him by encouraging him to visit www.cdc.gov and read the Toxoplasmosis Fact Sheet.