Toxoplasmosis and Pregnancy: Why Cats Don’t Deserve Such A Bad Rap

 

{Photo credit: With A Red Bird On My Shoulder}

If you cohabit with a feline companion and have ever been pregnant, chances are that you’ve received a myriad of unsolicited advice trying to instill in you the fear of contracting Toxoplasmosis. From the moment you found out you were expecting, you might have immediately handed over litter box duties to your partner – or even considered finding a new home for your beloved cat. There are a million things to worry about throughout your pregnancy. The stress of kicking your kitty to the curb should not be one of them. The truth is, contracting Toxoplasmosis from cats themselves is not as common as you might think.

To fully understand what your risk level is, you must first understand what Toxoplasmosis is.

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. The parasite can be present in under-cooked or contaminated meat, contaminated water or unpasteurized milk, feces of cats who have eaten contaminated meat or (in very rare cases) contaminated transplant organs. The Toxoplasma parasite is found worldwide; and over 60 million Americans are believed to have been infected with it. Toxoplasmosis typically serves as little threat to people with a healthy immune system. However, people with weakened immune systems or pregnant women and their fetuses are at the greatest risk of developing serious symptoms from the disease. Severe cases of Toxoplasmosis can result in damage to the brain, eyes and other organs. Furthermore, fetuses exposed to Toxoplasmosis in the womb might initially show no signs of infection, but may develop symptoms well after birth.

Ways To Contract Toxoplasmosis:

  • Ingesting under-cooked or contaminated meat (especially pork, lamb and venison).
  • Ingesting contaminated water or unpasteurized milk.
  • Ingesting food prepared with unwashed cookware that was used to prepare under-cooked or contaminated meat (cross-contamination).
  • Ingesting contaminated soil by not washing your hands thoroughly after gardening or ingesting unwashed or improperly washed raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Accidentally ingesting cat feces (This can happen by not washing your hands thoroughly after cleaning the litter box or touching something that was exposed to the feces).
  • Mother to fetus transmission.
  • Receiving an infected organ via medical transplant (rare).

Facts About Cats And Toxoplasmosis:

{Photo credit: With A Red Bird On My Shoulder}

Cats can become hosts for Toxoplasma after ingesting the parasite via infected raw meat or prey. Felines are the only definitive host for this parasite. Once it is in a cat’s system, it is able to produce and shed thousands of immature eggs called oocysts through the cat’s feces. (As the definitive host, cats are the only species that shed these eggs. All other species are at risk for becoming intermediate hosts if they ingest these eggs. Toxoplasma cannot produce eggs in intermediate hosts, however.) Once the eggs are shed in the cat’s feces, it takes 1-5 days for them to mature and become infectious. Most cats can become infected with this parasite and show little to no clinical signs. In most cases, without testing, it would be nearly impossible to determine whether or not your cat has ever been infected. While this all might seem like a sure enough reason to err on the side of caution and send your kitty packing during your pregnancy, the following facts should put your mind at ease:

  • If you have an indoor cat who eats commercial canned or dry cat food, the chances of him ever becoming infected with the Toxoplasma parasite are very slim. The only way a cat can become infected is by ingesting raw meat or prey that contains the parasite. Unless your indoor kitty catches a lot of mice, you probably have very little to worry about.
  • If your cat ever were to become infected, he will only produce infectious eggs for a couple of weeks. Once the cycle is over, he will become immune to the parasite and will never shed eggs again.
  • Once the eggs are shed in your cat’s feces, they do not become infectious for 1-5 days.

Preventative Measures You Can Take During Your Pregnancy:

  • Always make sure your fruits and vegetables are washed thoroughly.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after gardening and before cooking.
  • Wash your cookware and utensils with soap and hot water; and never use the same cutting boards and knives for raw meat and fruits and vegetables.


{Photo credit: With A Red Bird On My Shoulder}

    • Avoid eating raw or under-cooked sea food, as it might have been exposed to Toxoplasma in the sea water.
    • Never drink unpasteurized milk or water from an unknown source.
    • Keep children’s outdoor sandboxes covered so that feral cats cannot use them as litter boxes.
    • To greatly reduce your risk of infection, freeze meat for several days before cooking.
    • Always make sure to thoroughly cook your meat to these internal temperatures:
  • Whole cuts of meat – 145 degrees F (with a rest time of 3 minutes afterwards to allow continued cooking)
  • Ground meat – 160 degrees F
  • Poultry – 165 degrees F (with a rest time of 3 minutes afterwards to allow continued cooking)

    (You can ensure your meat is cooked to the correct internal temperature by using a meat thermometer.)

Preventative Measures Pertaining To Your Cat:

  • Keep your cat indoors so there is little chance he can hunt on prey and become infected.
  • Only feed your cat fully cooked meat or commercial cat food.


{Photo credit: With A Red Bird On My Shoulder}

  • Get your cat tested to see if he has ever been infected with the Toxoplasma parasite. If he has, the test will show whether he is currently going through the cycle or has in the past. If he has in the past, there is no chance of spreading the disease to you.
  • Since the eggs that are shed in the cat’s feces do not become infectious until at least 24 hours after they have been shed, scooping the litter box daily will eliminate their presence in your home before they become a risk to you.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after scooping the litter box. If you want to be extra cautious, ask a family member to take over litter box duties during your pregnancy.

The Bottom Line:

Cats seem to have been given an unfair rap when it comes to Toxoplasmosis. Since they are considered the only definitive hosts for the parasite, a stigma has been placed on them; and fear has been driven into the heads of every feline-loving pregnant woman. But in actuality, given the fact that cats are only able to shed the live parasite one time in their entire lives (and even then, only throughout the course of a few weeks), your chances of contracting Toxoplasmosis from a cat are much lower than your chances of contracting it from under-cooked meat or unwashed fruits and vegetables. So, there is little need to stress about your furry pal. If you take preventative measures, there is no reason why your precious feline cannot stay by your side throughout your pregnancy.

Looking for Un-Maternity Wear?

If you need to add some maternity clothing to your wardrobe, but don’t want to spend money on pieces you’ll only wear for a short period of time, then head on over to Melody Lane for the best in regular clothing that is versatile enough to wear before, during, and after pregnancy! They offer trendy, classic, and comfortable clothing that is hand-picked for all the life stages women usually experience. With nothing over $100, always free shipping, and new styles featured every season, Melody Lane makes sure your “fashion meets life”.

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If you’re looking for more tips on staying healthy during pregnancy, check out our EXPECT category.

This post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician, doctor or health care professional. Please read our terms of use for more information.


Sources:
www.cdc.gov “Parasites – Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma Infection)”
www.vet.cornell.edu “Toxoplasmosis in Cats”

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Danielle

Danielle is a Pittsburgh native who has been warming her “black and gold” blood in sunny Northern California for the past 6 years. On any given day, you can find her arranging ridiculous photo shoots of her one-year-old son Graeme and cat Gizmo, or working on any one of her 27,000 writing projects. She enjoys daydreaming about becoming a famous actress and starting a handful of different businesses with her husband over glasses of wine in the evenings. Someday, she hopes to travel the country in an RV with her family… but she needs to sell that novel first. You can follow her journeys through her blog With A Red Bird On My Shoulder

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