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Cat feces and pregnancy

cat litter
Photo by Maproom Systems

Cat feces and pregnancy go together in a negative way because of the disease, toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite called toxoplasma gondi. Astonishingly up to 20% of American people are affected by this parasite (source: Cornell University says that the parasite is found in nearly all warm blooded animals (humans are warm blooded animals).

So it is very common. However, in 80% of the cases of people affected there are no symptoms and the person is unaware he/she is infected as the body's immune system deals with the parasite to neutralize it. It is in the body but not doing anything. The same applies to cats, there will be no symptoms.

For people with suppressed immune systems for whatever cause (e.g. chemotherapy or due to another illness such as AIDS) then symptoms can be present, which can include:- fever, sore throat, aching muscles, swollen glands (lymph glands), headaches, confusion, blurred vision, chest pains, trouble breathing and coughing up blood.

So how do cat feces come into this situation? A cat can be infected as well as humans. A domestic cat can become infected if he/she eats the raw meat of another animal or drinks the milk of an infected mother cat. So, for cat keepers their cat might become infected if she/he is an outdoor cat and likes hunting. You'll see clear signs of that in your cat's activity. A lot of cats in the USA are exclusively indoor cats which would mean little or no chance of being infected it seems to me.

In the UK cats are more indoors/outdoors so more chance of infection. If your cat is infected the parasite can be passed to his/her feces and thence to the cat litter is she uses it or to the garden potentially if she goes to the toilet in the garden (on soil in the flower beds). The parasite can live for a long time (about one year) in cat's feces. The chance of being infected by your cat is small (source: Cornell University)

If you're pregnant and you get infected the parasite can harm your baby causing possible: miscarriage, poor growth, early delivery, still birth and if born with the disease can suffer nasty conditions such as water on the brain, eye conditions and convulsions. So it is serious, very serious.

So there is the connection between Cat feces and pregnancy. However, the most common cause of infection in humans of toxoplasmosis is through eating raw meat and not from contact with cat feces.

What to do if you have a domestic cat and you are going to get pregnant or are pregnant. As I understand it some doctors advise to get rid of your cat. This sounds impossibly harsh but understandable as the damage that can be caused is potentially severe. It is all about risk it seems to me.

I would have thought a sensible procedure could be set up to deal with cat feces. I would also have thought that all women with husbands or partners could insist upon the partner doing the cat litter and the gardening (lean on the man a bit). If you are a single woman you may have other children who could be taught to deal with the cat litter. In other words you don't go near cat litter (this also means not breathing in cat litter dust - you might move the cat litter box to a safer place). That to me is the safest method.

But more importantly, it would be wise to deal with the more important and common sources of infection such as raw meat - simple answer, don't eat raw meat or unpasteurized milk and don't touch raw meat and if you do wash hands afterwards and the utensils (this is in fact simple good cooking practice anyway). Cat feces and pregnancy need not be a bad combination but no doubt the situation needs to be taken very seriously for the baby's sake.

One last point: lets not blame cats. I guess they could in theory catch it from us or by our actions (e.g eating raw meat left out in the kitchen - wrong? please tell me in a comment). Perhaps they do....?

Update March 2011: Here is a further page on the subject: Toxoplasmosis and Its Prevention in Cats and People.

Cat feces and pregnancy to cat pregnancy


Anonymous said…
If I heard of a doctor telling a preganant women to get rid of her cat because of the risks i would put in a complaint about. This is just scare mongering. Life is dangerous, there are germs and bacteria everywhere and guess what we have survived. You might as well tell a preganant woman not to eat any meat in case of infection.
With Toxoplasmosis and cat litter, like you say is just commom sense and general hygiene. Wear gloves, use a scoop, wash hands thoroughly.
Oooou can you tell things like make me mad. Good post.
Michael Broad said…
Hi Kate,

Yes, We agree, it's all about common sense and risk and life is full of risk. And if I was a women I'd never give up my cat if I became pregnant!
Anonymous said…
I'm sorry I'd take a trained professional doctor's advice over advice on a cat lover's blog any day.
I would suggest you don't give "advice" that can leave you liable without a disclaimer! Perhaps if you lose a child because of something that could be prevented, much like we vaccinate now to prevent, you'll have the sense to provide unbiased advice. The doctor's advice was sound - risk to human life, unborns, must be minimised.
Anonymous said…
I completely agree with anonymous. As you are a cat lover this is biased information, and as a woman I would prefer to be advised by a health care professional. If you WERE a woman (which you are not), you could keep all the cats you want, but you're child is what would be at risk. That is not something I choose to do. A cat is certainly not more important than my unborn child. You should get your priorities straight. Also, if anyone that you know anyone that is pregnant and has cats, I suggest you do not give them information that may cause their child to be potentially harmed. You will be liable, and you won't feel so good about it then.
Michael Broad said…
Response to last comment. Fine, in that case women who intend to get pregnant within the next 15 years should not keep cats. Simple. You can't dump a cat like that. And if you can shame on you. You can't do both that is the point. And it seems you are advocating that.

I have no fear of liability.
Anonymous said…
If the cat is using the litter box, is it also coming in contact with bacteria. After it uses the litter box, it WILL still have traces of bacteria. It will not be 100% clean, even with all the cleaning, grooming. Then it will proceed to be petted, it will walk on kitchen counters, tables, other surfaces a pregnant woman can or may touch. What to do then? It seems the pregnant woman would have to be quarantined, just so a cat can remain in the house, and not be exposed.
Anonymous said…
Cats are valuable for one thing only. Target practice.
Tubal Reversal said…
Here I wanna some information about a Medical term that is called Tubal reversal and most of women’s didn’t know about it. So here I m providing you useful information…
A tubal reversal is a procedure to reconnect the fallopian tubes in a woman who has previously undergone surgical sterilization, known as tubal ligation. In a tubal reversal operation, the surgeon removes the portion of each fallopian tube that has been blocked or cut. Once the damaged portion has been removed, the tubes are reconnected to form a complete, open fallopian tube.
yes i am also with you...
pregnant women must ride of their cats...
i lobe babies and thanks for sharing...
All the times when i see this blog a name blinked in my mind that is Dr Morice..
He is the man much more experienced in women issues..
i think all the women must visit to learn the solution of their problems..
Anonymous said…
my neighbours cat poos all over my garden .it has killed my plants.and my kids cant play outside in the garden anymore . the neighbour wont do anything about it.aaarrggh. advise.
Anonymous said…
Kill all cats that run around shitting in other folks gardens! SHAME ON YOU CAT OWNERS who take NO RESPONSIBILITY in this..How would you like it if my dog/cat shit all over your garden and it stopped you/and your children from enjoying your garden?????? Yeah, be honest....Of course you wouldnt like it... Wise up and take more responsibility with your stinkin ole cats.... I agree with one person above who said they were good for only one thing...TARGET PRACTISE... They are nothing but dirty/stinkin/disease carrying /hateful cruel f******! I tota;ly hate them and will POISION the F****** if they come round ! As for their stinkin/minging shit, it will be lifted and tossed over into the selfish folks who own them! Dont even bother ANYONE telling me that im this and im that because i hate cats. I HATE the f****** because of what they have done to my bloody garden/and the way they torture/kill little defenceless animals like birds (of course there are many more animals). Cats need TORTURED in the same fashion that they hand out to the less than able animal world. The irresponsible owners need sorting out and all! Wake up some of you downright selfish/lazy irresponsible owners!! Wake fekkin up to the reality of your stinking /fouling disease carrying /life threatning CAT.........
Anonymous said…
Sorry Freddie Fox but you seem a tad to "prissy" for my liking. A man that sits fiddling around cats like an old woman is definately a guy to..Avoid avoid avoid.... He aint really much of a "man"'........Get a life Freddie Fox and a partner. Then... GET REAL mate................

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