Pregnancy isnt an automatic eviction notice for the family cat, says K-State veterinarian


Dr. Susan Nelson wants to debunk the myth that cats and pregnant women cant safely coexist.

Shutterstock.comA positive pregnancy test often comes with a negative view of the family cat due to toxoplasmosis fears-and not without reason.

Felines are the definitive hosts of Toxoplasma gondii, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infects an estimated 60 million plus people in the United States. Most infected people with healthy immune systems experience only mild symptoms, if any. But in pregnant women, toxoplasmosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and severe eye and nervous system problems in the child.

Despite the risks, Susan Nelson, DVM, clinical professor at Kansas State University's Veterinary Health Center, says in a recent university release that many pregnant women have been mistakenly advised to give up their cats.

“Toxoplasmosis is a devastating disease, but with proper precautions, a woman does not need to rehome her cat if she becomes pregnant,” Dr. Nelson says.

The release notes that cats aren't even the most common way people become infected. Raw meat, unpasteurized goat milk, raw vegetables, contaminated water and gardening are the most common sources.

Dr. Susan Nelson examines one of her feline patients. Photo courtesy of Kansas State University.Taking a more comprehensive approach to minimizing toxoplasmosis risk, Dr. Nelson offers a list of safety precautions in the release directed at the general public, not just pregnant women:

Change your cat's litterbox every day. Infected cats can shed millions of microscopic T. gondii oocysts in their feces, and it takes one to five days for these oocysts to become infective after being shed. Pregnant women should avoid changing the litterbox, if possible. If not, they should wear disposable gloves and wash their hands with soap and water afterward.

Cats pick up the T. gondii parasite by eating rodents, birds and small animals, so keep your cat indoors.

Don't feed your cat raw or undercooked meats. Use only canned or dried commercial food or fully cooked table food.

Don't adopt or handle stray cats while pregnant. Kittens are at an especially high risk of shedding T. gondii oocysts.

If you have an outdoor sandbox, keep it covered so cats are unable to defecate in it.

Freeze meats at subzero temperatures for several days before cooking, then cook them to recommended safe temperatures.

Peel or wash fruits and vegetables before eating.

Don't eat raw or undercooked oysters, mussels or clams.

Don't drink unpasteurized goat milk, and don't feed it to cats.

Use soap and hot water to wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, counters and hands after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood and unwashed fruits or vegetables.

Wear gloves when gardening and while coming in contact with soil or sand that could be contaminated with cat feces. Wash your hands afterward.

Instruct children to wash their hands to prevent infection.

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