If you're pregnant, you may hear that cats can affect your pregnancy. It's not your cat, per se, that can do it but a single-celled parasite called toxoplasmosis which cats can carry. But whether you actually will get it from your cat is another story.
How Toxoplasmosis Affects Pregnancy
Toxoplasmosis isn't usually a problem for most people. About 60 million U.S. residents have contracted it. Once you get it, you can't be reinfected. It acts a lot like flu. But according to the Center for Disease Control, it's the No. 1 cause of food-poisoning death. If a pregnant woman contracts toxoplasmosis for the first time in her life, she can give it to her unborn baby without knowing it. About half of infected babies are born prematurely. Toxoplasmosis can cause brain damage and seizures in children who were infected when their mother was pregnant with them. Other damage can manifest itself weeks, months or years after birth, including spleen and liver damage, deafness or impaired hearing, jaundice, eye damage and vision problems, diarrhea, vomiting, eating problems and skin rash.
How Toxoplasmosis Is Transmitted
Most people get toxoplasmosis from eating undercooked meat or failing to wash their hands after touching infected soil before eating. You can possibly be infected by handling cat poop and not washing your hands, then ingesting it by contaminating your food, but the likelihood is remote.
Why It's Unlikely You'll Get Toxoplasmosis From Your Cat
Cats, like people, contract toxoplasmosis only once and therefore can be infective only once. Cats get toxoplasmosis by eating an infected rodent or raw meat. After about three to 10 days the cat becomes infective, shedding toxoplasmosis eggs in her poop for about two weeks. But the poop isn't infective when it comes out of a cat. It takes one to five days for the poop to become infective once the cat has eliminated it -- assuming your cat contracts toxoplasmosis for the first time while you're pregnant. It assumes you aren't one of the 60 million people out there who contracted toxoplasmosis sometime before you got pregnant. And it assumes that you leave the poop lying around in the litter box more than one day. It also assumes that you will clean the litter box with your tongue or bare hands. Then fix a sandwich for yourself afterward.
Preventing Toxoplasmosis Transmission
Relax. You can't get toxoplasmosis from your cat directly. Enlist your significant other or friends to clean the litter box daily and make sure they wash their hands well. Don't eat undercooked meat, and wear gloves gardening. Practice good hygiene. Your baby and your cat will thank you.