Pregnant women should nix litterbox duty

Pregnant women should nix litterbox duty

Q: My wife and I very recently found out that we are expecting our first child. We do have two cats and my mother informed me to make sure that my wife does not handle the cleaning of the litter boxes throughout her pregnancy due to the risk of a possible parasite that can be dangerous to the unborn child. What parasite is this and what would potentially happen? Of course, we want to be as careful as we can be. Should we go so far as to get rid of our cats? They have always been indoor cats so how could they possibly get such a parasite? Is it that common in cat populations?

A: This is a question that I have not received in quite a long time, but it is worthy of being answered for the broader public good. The parasite your mother was talking about is something called Toxoplasma gondii or Toxoplasmosis. It is a very hearty parasite in nature, found in many species, for which in humans there is no cure once infected. It is found worldwide, and, in some populations, it is postulated that almost a third of all people have been exposed and infected and then live with the parasite.

The effects in humans most commonly seen if one is infected is damage to the retina in the eye, which can lead to permanent vision loss. Diagnosis is often made by looking for lesions in the eye upon an ophthalmologic examination or by testing the blood for antibodies. The fact that your cats are indoor pets is in your favor since it is outdoor cats that might eat infected prey that they catch and kill, so the likelihood that your cats might be infected is very slim. The parasite is then spread through the cats’ feces, which is why your mother advised that you pick up the cleaning of the litter boxes for now. To be on the safe side, heed the advice that your mother gave you. Cleaning the box daily can also be helpful since, if the cats were to be infected, it takes a few days before the parasite is infectious if shed in the feces.

As for clinical signs in cats that are infected, they are prone to anorexia, lethargy, fever and other non-specific signs. Since you asked about what could happen if your wife were to become infected while pregnant, know that becoming infected while pregnant can lead to an infection being passed on to the unborn child that can then develop into problems as soon as they are born or later in life, such as blindness or other disabilities. By taking care of the disposition of the cats’ feces now, you will prevent any possibility, no matter how low, of any issues. Practice good hygiene and all should be well. Congratulations to you both on what lies ahead!

Dr. John de Jong owns and operates the Boston Mobile Veterinary Clinic. He can be reached at 781-899-9994.