Toxoplasmosis and Litter Boxes

Changing Your Cat’s Litter Box While Pregnant – Your Guide to Caring for Your Cat During Pregnancy

It seems like everywhere you turn there is new news on what to avoid while pregnant. The list of what to watch out for can be daunting. One such hazard you may have heard or read about is avoiding your cat’s litter box while you are pregnant (thankfully, cleaning your cat’s litter box is one job you may not mind giving up for a while).

You may have also been told that you need to avoid your cat entirely if you are pregnant because of something called Toxoplasmosis. While toxoplasmosis is real and can have serious, harmful effects on your fetus, there are simple ways to ensure you stay safe and healthy while pregnant WITH your cats as part of your family. There is no need to banish your cats to the basement and certainly no need to give your cats away. Here are some facts about Toxoplasmosis and guidelines to follow if you are pregnant and caring for cats.

What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection caused by the protozoan T. Gondii. The primary hosts for the parasite are cats. Typical infection in healthy humans generally causes mild flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all. However, if a pregnant woman becomes infected by the parasite she may become ill. The infection may be passed onto and have harmful effect on her fetus as well.

The Straight Scoop on Cat Poop!

Cats are carriers for the protozoan T. Gondii, which is the culprit for the Toxoplasmosis infection. Cats can become infected with the protozoan by ingesting raw or undercooked meat, eating a wild animal that has been infected with the protozoan, or drinking contaminated water. Once ingested by the cat, the parasite forms what are called “oocysts” in the cat’s gut, which are later excreted in the feces. The oocycts are infectious for approximately 24 hours after being deposited. They can also remain infectious for up to 18 months in soil, sand, litter, or where ever they are deposited (generally in the feces). This is why it is so important to wear gloves and thoroughly wash your hands while gardening, regardless if you have a cat or not. You never know what could be lurking in the soil.

What effects can Toxoplasmosis have on a fetus?

Congenital Toxoplasmosis in this county is rare. However, if contracted by the mom and passed onto her fetus, it can have serious health effects on the unborn baby including:

  • Blindness
  • Epilepsy
  • Mental retardation
  • It can also lead to the miscarriage of the pregnancy

I am pregnant; do I have to get rid of my cat?

No. Just because you are pregnant does not mean you need to give up any of your beloved pet(s)—although you will want to take some extra precautions while you are pregnant and caring for your cat(s). Avoid cat feces and changing your cat’s litter box if possible to reduce your chances of contracting the parasite that causes Toxoplasmosis.

What can I do to limit my exposure and my cat’s exposure to the protozoan that causes Toxoplasmosis?

  • Do not change your cat’s litter box – It is recommended that you avoid your cat’s litter box, and all cat feces during pregnancy. If you have no one who can help you with this task, it is advisable to take the following precautions before changing the litter box: 1) wear gloves; 2) wear a mask; 3) carefully wash your hands after you are done; 4) change the litter box daily.
  • Keep your cat indoors – Outdoor cats are much more likely to contract Toxoplasmosis because they are more readily exposed to potential infective sources such as small dead animals, or contaminated water or soil.
  • Do not bring home a stray cat – Because a stray cat has most likely survived on the street for some time it is also more likely to be infected with the parasite.
  • Feed your cat the right food – Raw meat can contain the parasite that can cause Toxoplasmosis. If your cat has been on a raw meat diet you should switch to canned or dried food for the length of your pregnancy. Do not feed your cat raw or undercooked meats.
  • Wash your hands! – It is always a good idea to wash your hands regularly when handling pets. Your cat is no exception. Although you are very unlikely to contract Toxoplasmosis by petting or handling your cat, washing your hands more often can never hurt!

What can I do to further reduce my chances of contracting Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy?

Cats are just one of the possible sources of Toxoplasmosis. It is best to abide by the following if you are pregnant, regardless of whether or not you own cats:

  • Make sure all your food is thoroughly washed and all meat is fully cooked. Unwashed produce or undercooked meats can be sources of the Toxoplasmosis infection.
  • When gardening or working outside, be sure to wear gardening gloves to keep your hands from coming in contact with the soil, and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after gardening.
  • If touching raw meat, be sure to carefully wash and disinfect all surfaces that may have come in contact with the raw meat.


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