Friday, July 15, 2011

Pregnant Women and Cat Litter

There is a justified rumor out there that women, while pregnant, shouldn't change cat litter.  Few of us really know why.  And I know this is a dog site on the whole, but many dog owners are also cat owners.. and they may be wondering about this mysterious rumor.

I had a friend who was pregnant, and she heard the whole 'cat litter thing'.  She didn't really know why, but it was a good excuse to get her boyfriend to change the cat litter while she was pregnant!  It's a scary thought: are our cats harboring some awful contagion  that will affect our offspring, which we never considered until now?

The culprit behind this known fact is a little protozoa called Toxoplasma gondii.  While any warm blooded animal can be infested, the oocysts (protozoan eggs) can only be shed by infected cats.  That means we can all get it, but only our cats can transmit it.  These protozoans are found worldwide, and are shed in our cat's feces.  Our cats contract this by eating infected mice.  Once infected, they exhibit signs of fever, muscle pain, anorexia, sore throat, and overall have a poor prognosis.  Cats are treatable, but exposure to humans needs to be prevented to ensure we are not infected.  A pregnant woman puts her fetus at risk of congenital malformation, mental handicap, and even death.  Some women have antibodies already formed to fight this protozoa, so that woman's fetus would not be at risk (though she wouldn't know it unless she was tested for the antibodies).

Avoiding exposure to infected feces while pregnant is essential.  Your cat can be tested to see if they are positive.  If you are pregnant and working outside, say, in a garden or as landscaper, wear gloves and be cautious, as infected stray cats may have defecated there. The thing to really take away, is that there is nothing magical and mystical about your cat or it's litter.  Litter itself is not what transmits this condition, nor is a healthy cat.  Only a cat who has had the opportunity to be exposed to either infected mice or feces of other infected cats are a concern.

But... if your husband or boyfriend is no wiser, let them believe it's just the cat or the litter.. a 9 month break of scooping poop may be well-deserved!


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