Pets and Pregnancy

If you are pregnant, you'll need to take special precautions if you have any pets. For example, cat feces can contain a microscopic organism known as Toxoplasma gondii, exposure to which can seriously damage the fetus. Some other things to be aware of include making sure your dog's rabies shots are up to date and using gloves when handling pet turtles.

An Overview of Pregnancy and Pets

Certain pets, such as cats, dogs, and turtles, can present certain risks to your baby during pregnancy. However, there are steps that you can take to minimize these risks.

Cats and Pregnancy

Cat feces can contain a microscopic protozoan (a very tiny organism) called Toxoplasma gondii that can be passed to a human in two ways:
  • Through direct contact
  • Inhaling it.
Direct contact can occur if a person touches the feces while cleaning the litter box or when gardening in an area where a cat has relieved itself. A person may breathe in the Toxoplasma gondii if the feces are disturbed, causing the organisms in the feces to become airborne. For example, if a cat scratches the litter and the sacs containing the Toxoplasma gondii become airborne, a nearby person may inhale the sacs.
Symptoms of toxoplasmosis -- the disease caused by this protozoan -- may include:
  • Low-grade fever
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen glands.
If you have had a cat in your home for a long time, it is likely that you have already had toxoplasmosis, which is good, because once infected, your body builds up antibodies to protect itself from a repeat infection. If toxoplasmosis crosses the placenta in the first few months of pregnancy, it can severely damage the fetus. Problems may range from premature birth or low birth weight to serious central nervous system defects (and even stillbirths).
If you have a cat, be smart and follow these steps:
  • Take your cat to be tested for Toxoplasma gondii. If your cat has an active infection, ask a friend to take care of it until you are further along in your pregnancy.
  • If your cat is not infected, do not let it eat raw meat. Also, keep it inside.
  • Stay away from the litter box. It must be cleaned daily, but have someone else do it.
  • Stay away from stray cats, and do not hold cats you don't know.
  • Avoid gardening in soil that might be contaminated with cat feces, and always wear gloves when gardening.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
You can have your doctor test you for toxoplasmosis; however, the results won't indicate whether you were infected before or after your pregnancy. Around week 20 to 22 of pregnancy, tests of fetal blood or amniotic fluid can determine if the baby has been infected. If infection has occurred, an immediate and aggressive course of antibiotics may limit the damage.
Even if you don't have a cat, you can still be exposed to toxoplasmosis by handling or eating raw meat. When preparing raw meat, be sure to:
  • Wear gloves
  • Cook meat thoroughly
  • Wash your hands with soap before eating
  • Clean and disinfect all counters exposed to the meat.
Pregnancy and Pain
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