Pregnant women worry about the safety of their unborn babies, especially when it comes to cats and toxoplasmosis. The good news is that you can keep your cat and even cuddle with her, but you should ask someone else to clean her litter tray.
What is toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a zoonotic disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Most warm-blooded animals carry the parasite but it only reproduces in wild and domestic cats. Humans contract toxoplasmosis through infected cat faeces, working with infected raw meat, drinking contaminated water or while gardening, as the parasite can live in soil for extended periods.
How cats contract the disease
Cats pick up the parasite by eating infected prey or raw meat, or through contaminated soil. If your cat picks up the parasite, she will start to shed eggs, called oocysts, in her faeces about 3 to 10 days after exposure. Shedding will continue for up to 2 weeks. Indoor cats are less likely to become infected but if your cat does enjoy the outdoors, it can be difficult to prevent an infection, especially if she hunts.
Dangers in pregnancy
For healthy humans toxoplasmosis symptoms are rarely worse than a bad cold and resolve in a few days. If a pregnant woman contracts toxoplasmosis, the infection can pass through the placenta to the foetus. Women infected in the first trimester may have a miscarriage. The parasite can also cause birth defects. Infection later in pregnancy may cause serious health problems in the baby or result in a stillbirth.
- Ask your partner or a friend to clean your cat’s litter tray during your pregnancy.
- Cook meat properly and avoid dishes with raw meat.
- Thoroughly wash vegetables and fruit before preparing or eating raw.
- Heat precooked meals all the way through until piping hot.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water before preparing any food.
- Clean cutlery and surfaces after you have worked with raw meat.
- Avoid unpasteurised milk, cream and butter during your pregnancy.
- Use gardening gloves when working in the garden.
- Cover a child’s outdoor sandpit to prevent cats using it as a litter box.
- Never feed your cat raw meat.
Text: Gina Hartoog
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