What about pregnancy and your cat?
The transmission of an infection called toxoplasmosis is the primary concern related to cats. Transmission occurs from contact with feline feces and also contact with raw or under-cooked meats. Outdoor cats are more likely to have toxoplasmosis than cats that remain strickly indoors.
If a woman is immune to toxoplasmosis before pregnancy, then the baby is safe. Approximately 15% of women in the United States are immune to the infection, and the likelihood of immunity is higher for women who have owned cats for a long time.
Exposure to cat's feces will most commonly occur in the garden, or sandbox, where cats bury their bowel movements, or when you change the litter box. When a cat comes into contact with toxoplasmosis, the parasite only lives in the cat's feces for two weeks and then the cat becomes immune. But toxoplasma gondii eggs can live in cat feces for up to 18 months if the feces is buried in moist soil. It is best to avoid changing the litter box because even the dust can create exposure.
Here are a few helpful tips to help create a safer environment during your pregnancy:
- If you must do some gardening, wear gloves at all times
- Avoid changing the litter box; have someone else do it
- Do not leave your cat with your new baby unsupervised
- Cover your children's sandbox
Toxoplasmosis poses serious risks for your baby which include: mental retardation, blindness, learning disabilities, stillbirth or pre-term birth. Inform your health care provider that you are a cat owner. If you are infected while you are pregnant there is an antibiotic to reduce the likelihood that the baby will be infected.
A 2001 study found that direct contact with pet cats is probably a less common route of transmission to human hosts than contamination of hands with cat feces by touching the earth.
Most infants who are infected while in the womb have no symptoms at birth, but may develop symptoms later in life.
Toxoplasmosis is caused by a single-celled protozoan parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, one of the most common parasitic diseases of warm-blooded animals. While Toxoplasma can infect numerous species, it will only reproduce in the intestines of an infected cat.
Humans are considered an 'intermediate' host for Toxoplasma (refer to the diagram above), meaning that our bodies can be infected by the parasite, but we cannot spread it to other creatures.
But once a human is infected with Toxoplasm, the parasite migrates deep into our tissues - frequently the tissues of the brain and the eyes - creates small cysts, and stays there for life, multiplying as the years pass.