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Is it safe to handle your cat’s litter box while pregnant?
Various cat litter pregnancy myths exist surrounding this topic and I’d like to separate the wheat from the chaff in this article.
The most common, unquestionably, is the old wives’ tale that it is unsafe for pregnant women to keep cats because touching them or being around their kitty boxes will cause their babies to be physically or mentally deformed.
But although cats have been blamed for infecting their owners with this parasite, the reality is that you are far more likely to be infected with toxoplasmosis from infected meat or soil than from your cat.
How common is toxoplasmosis in pregnancy?
Toxoplasmosis is one of the most common human infections throughout the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that “Toxoplasmosis is considered to be a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the United States.
More than 40 million men, women, and children in the U.S. carry the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, but very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness. However, women newly infected with Toxoplasma during or shortly before pregnancy and anyone with a compromised immune system should be aware that toxoplasmosis can have severe consequences.”
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the parasite toxoplasma gondii. It is spread by:
- Touching or eating raw meat
- Drinking unpasteurized milk
- Eating unwashed fruits or vegetables
- Gardening in infected soil
- Through contact with infected fecal material
Toxoplasmosis poses a risk to pregnant women and the unborn child and people with compromised immune systems, such as those with AIDS, organ transplants, or cancer.
Cats are one of the hosts that can carry and pass this parasite to humans through infectious cysts shed in their stool.
While an active toxoplasmosis infection generally causes mild flu-like symptoms in humans that go away on their own in a few days, it is very dangerous to fetuses in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Cats and pregnant women can safely coexist. Yes, I said it! Did you know that they have safely coexisted for thousands of years?
Can you get toxoplasmosis from breathing in cat litter?
You cannot get toxoplasmosis from breathing in a cat’s litter while pregnant. Studies show that the major source of toxoplasma infection in humans is eating raw or undercooked meats and not contact with cats.
Cats who live indoors, who have never caught and eaten birds, rodents, or other small animals and have never been fed raw meat are extremely unlikely to be infected.
On the other hand, most humans handle fresh meat frequently and therefore have had some exposure.
And once you have been infected and your immune system has fought off the toxoplasma infection, you are immune for life—even if you fall pregnant.
Hence, smelling cat litter while pregnant won’t infect you with toxoplasma.
How human beings get toxoplasmosis
This is how you can be infected with toxoplasmosis from your sick indoor cat while carrying a pregnancy.
Your cat sheds toxoplasma cysts (the egg stage) in their feces 3 to 10 days after eating infected tissues
They will shed the cysts for up to 14 days, and afterward, it is unlikely that they will ever shed them again, even after repeated exposure. This means, that only a recent infection is contagious.
The cysts do not become infectious to other animals and humans until one to four days have passed, so this stool has to have been in the pet box for more than 24 hours.
You can become infected if you touch the stool with your bare hands and then get some of the cat feces in your mouth or eye before you have washed your hands.
If you touched cat poop while pregnant, and it contained toxoplasma cysts, you are likely to become infected.
This series of events is unlikely since you should be maintaining proper hand hygiene (Thanks Rona)
How do you clean the litter box while pregnant?
As a pregnant woman, if you must scoop and clean the box, wear rubber or plastic gloves when you do and clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterward.
To avoid breathing in cat litter when pregnant, wear a mask too to avoid inhaling any litter dust or toxic fumes, and ammonia from the kitty box.
Smelling cat litter while pregnant may cause you to be nauseated and even induce unnecessary vomiting.
Invest in the best litter while pregnant too.
How to protect yourself against toxoplasmosis
These simple precautions will keep you safe from any likelihood, no matter how remote, of contracting toxoplasmosis from your kitty.
- Have someone else in your family scoop and clean the cat box during your first trimester of pregnancy.
- If you must scoop and clean the box, wear rubber or plastic gloves, and wash your hands with soap and water afterward.
- Scoop the cat box daily to prevent any parasites from becoming infective.
- Dispose of any kitty feces in a sealed plastic bag.
- Wash the litter box with scalding water. It’s not necessary to use a disinfectant, because they do not affect the cysts.
- Feed your kitty commercial cat food or cooked homemade food, never anything raw or undercooked.
- Keep your kitty indoors to prevent any accidental encounters with birds or small animals. Don’t let your cat kill and eat birds or rodents.
- Invest in an automatic litter box. This will ensure you don’t have to deal with touching messy kitty poop and inhaling smelly odors daily.
How to protect yourself against toxoplasmosis from raw meat or garden soil
- Do not eat raw or undercooked meat, drink unpasteurized dairy products from any animal or eat unwashed fruits and vegetables that could be contaminated with soil containing the cysts. Wash your vegetables thoroughly.
- Wash your hands, as well as utensils and cutting boards, with soap water after handling raw meat.
- Cook meat thoroughly before it is eaten. The CDC advises that the internal temperature of meat should reach 160°F.
- Wear gloves when gardening or cleaning, sandboxes to avoid coming into contact with contaminated soil. Wash your hands thoroughly after working in the garden.
- Place a covering on your sandbox to prevent neighborhood kittens from using it as a litter box.
- Avoid stray pets, especially kittens.
Is cat litter toxic to a pregnant woman? Do I give up my cat if I’m pregnant?
Cat litter is toxic to a pregnant woman, only if it contains toxoplasma cysts. It is safe to have cats while pregnant.
However, if you touch the litter with your bare hands and proceed to touch your mouth, eyes, and nose without washing your hands, you are at risk of contracting toxoplasmosis.
If you have a cat and get pregnant, do not give her up due to the fear of contracting toxoplasmosis.
Ensure you apply these helpful tips to protect yourself from exposure to Toxoplasma:
- Avoid scooping the cat box and have someone else do it and also clean the litter box during your first trimester of pregnancy. If no one is available to help, wear rubber or plastic gloves, and wash your hands with soap and water afterward.
- Scoop the litter box daily to prevent any parasites from becoming infective. Toxoplasma cysts become infective between 1-5 days after shedding.
- Dispose of any cat feces in a sealed plastic bag.
- Feed your cat commercial cat food or cooked homemade food, never anything raw or undercooked meat.
- Keep your cat indoors to prevent any accidental encounters with birds or small animals. Don’t let your cat kill and eat birds or rodents.
- Wear gloves when gardening to avoid soil contact with bare hands.
Can cat litter cause a miscarriage?
According to the National Health Service (NHS), Toxoplasmosis is usually harmless, but in selected instances, if you get infected while pregnant, it can cause miscarriage. You can also pass the infection to your unborn baby.
Toxoplasma infection during pregnancy can spread to your unborn child. Those that survive are born with serious complications such as seizures and eye infections.
If you follow the guidelines I have highlighted carefully, Toxoplasmosis infection will simply be a word you hear and not an illness you have to battle with.
Enjoy staying with your feline friend even in your pregnancy journey, and safe delivery, free from birth defects when the time comes!
Oh, and remember, this is not medical advice (wink wink).