As soon as a woman becomes pregnant, she will quickly discover 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 ‘now you’re pregnant you will need to get rid of the cats‘.
Should a pregnant woman rehome 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 it can cause congenital defects and a cat might smother a newborn baby. Let’s look at these.
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. Many adults will 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, which pass out of the cat via the feces. Oocysts become infectious after 24 hours, at which time they must be ingested for infection to occur. Gardening, eating under-cooked 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 unlikely an indoor cat who does not hunt or eat raw meat will have had exposure to the parasite.
Reducing the risks:
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.
- A pregnant woman should not clean out litter trays but have another family member do so. Remove feces 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 under-cooked meat which contains the infective oocysts.
- Wash hands after handling raw meat.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables are other common sources 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 urban legend will not go away, many people will tell you that a friend of a friend of a friend lost a child who was smothered by a cat. I have spent a lot of time looking into this and have found one possible case where this occurred. That’s not to say cats and babies are a good mix to leave unattended. A newborn baby is not much larger than an average adult cat and must be kept safe while they are tiny.
Reducing the risks:
Never leave a cat alone with a sleeping baby. Keep the bedroom door shut when the baby is sleeping, purchase a cot cover and keep a monitor close by so you can hear if he wakes.
A new family won’t have time for the cat
Having a new baby in the house is a huge change, but cats are 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.