As soon as a woman becomes pregnant she will quickly find that everybody has an opinion on her pregnancy and how she should raise her future child, what she should name the baby. One of the most common comments I received during my two pregnancies was that I should get rid of my cats. Yes, people mean well, but these well-intentioned comments have lead to a huge number of cats being dropped off at the shelter as soon as a pregnancy test comes back positive.
So, is there any truth to the matter, should a pregnant woman get rid of her cat?
No. There is absolutely no reason for a pregnant woman to get rid of her cat. The two reasons cited are that if a woman catches toxoplasmosis during her pregnancy and a cat can possibly smother a newborn baby.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease caused by the single-celled protozoa Toxoplasma gondii. The cat is the definitive host to the parasite and can be infected without displaying clinical signs. A large number of adults have already had prior exposure to the parasite and will have antibodies, however, if a pregnant woman becomes infected for the first time during pregnancy, the parasite can pass through the placenta and infect the unborn child, causing a range of disabilities.
Transmission to humans occurs via ingestion of the infective oocysts. These are passed out of the cat via the feces. It takes 24 hours for the oocysts to become infective, at which time they must be directly ingested for infection to occur. This isn't the only way infection occurs. Gardening, eating undercooked meat and improperly washed fruit and vegetables are also modes of transmission.
Cats become infected by eating animals (mice, rats etc) already infected with the parasite or eating raw and undercooked meat. It is highly unlikely that an indoor cat who is not permitted to hunt or eat raw meat will have been infected.
Reducing the risks of toxoplasmosis:
If you are planning to fall pregnant or have recently found out you are already pregnant then the first step is to go to your doctor and request a blood test for toxoplasmosis.
- As oocysts become infective after 24 hours, diligent litter tray hygiene must be practiced. A pregnant woman should not clean out litter trays but have another family member do so. Feces should be removed as quickly as possible and litter trays thoroughly emptied and disinfected at least once a week.
- Don't allow your cat to go outdoors and hunt.
- Don't feed your cat raw meat.
- According to the CDC, most cases of toxoplasmosis infection occur via eating undercooked meat which contains the infective oocysts. Make sure meat is cooked through.
- Wash hands after handling raw meat.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables are another common source of infection. Always wash prior to eating.
- Pregnant women should also take care when gardening as they may come into contact with infected cat feces. Always wear gardening gloves and change clothes when you are finished. Or better still, have somebody else take over the garden while you are pregnant.
- Always wash your hands after petting a cat.
Cats smothering babies
This seems to have become a bit of an urban legend, and many people will tell you that a friend of a friend of a friend lost a child due to smothering by a cat. I have spent a great deal of time looking into this and have found one possible case where this occurred. However, that's not to say that cats and babies are a good mix, they aren't. A newborn baby is not much larger than your average adult cat and must be kept safe.
Cats should never be left unattended around a sleeping baby. Keep the bedroom door shut when the baby is sleeping with a monitor close by so you can hear if he wakes.
Another reason cited is that cats are attracted to the smell of milk on your baby's breath and will suck the breath from your baby's mouth. I find this old wives tail incredulous. A cat may be attracted to the warmth of a baby, but he's not trying to suck the breath out of your baby's mouth.
A new family won't have time for the cat
Yes, having a new baby in the house is a huge adjustment, but cats are pretty easygoing and independent creatures. They require food, water, shelter and a little love. Please remember that your cat is a member of the family too. Animal shelters are bursting at the seams with unwanted cats, and adding to the problem when it is totally unnecessary just puts more of a strain on an already over-stretched system. The chances of catching toxoplasmosis from your cat are very low, and if safety precautions are taken and your cat is not permitted to sleep with your young baby, all members of the family can remain in the home. The benefits of a child growing up with a family are enormous.