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Pregnant women and cats

Every pregnant woman wants to do the very best for her baby, and many expectant mothers have concerns about contracting the parasite toxoplasmosis from their feline friends. There is no need, however, to consider rehoming your pet because you or someone in the household is pregnant. 

Cats may contract toxoplasmosis after eating infected rodents or birds (for this reason, an indoor cat is very unlikely to be carrying the parasite). While cats can be carriers of the parasite, it is rare for them to develop the toxoplasmosis disease. 

Toxoplasmosis can spread to people only by direct contact with cat faeces or soils/litter that have been in contact with infected faeces. If a pregnant woman contracts the parasite, she has a 40 per cent chance of infecting her baby. For a baby, infection from toxoplasmosis can cause brain damage and numerous other problems including pneumonia.

Pregnant women should avoid handling their cats' litter trays – this job should be taken over by another member of the household. If that's not possible, the pregnant woman should use disposable gloves and thoroughly wash her hands with soap and water after handling the tray (this goes for those planning a pregnancy too!). The litter should be changed daily. Gloves should also be worn for gardening, as the parasite may be present in soil.

Whether meat is for feline or human consumption, it should always be well cooked, and hands should be washed thoroughly with soap after touching raw meat. Also avoid touching the eyes, mouth or nose while handling uncooked meat, and carefully clean cooking utensils.

Other general strategies to avoid infection include thoroughly washing produce to remove traces of soil, and avoiding children' sandboxes where the parasite may lurk.

Pregnant women cannot contract toxoplasmosis from handling or petting a cat: the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis is actually greater from eating undercooked infected meat than from your pet.
Annette Basile


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