Cat feces aren't something that anyone should be in close contact with, but babies are especially at risk of related illnesses. Whether your baby is on the way or already in the home, closely monitor both your and his interaction with the cat and the litter box.
Unborn Child Dangers
Cat feces can contain a certain parasite that causes a condition called toxoplasmosis. Odds are good that you've gotten it already and experienced few or no ill effects, like most people with healthy immune systems. But if you contract it from contact while you're pregnant, it can infect your unborn child and cause serious complications, like mental disability. For this reason, doctors recommend that pregnant women abstain from cleaning the litter box when they can—if you don't have a choice, wear gloves while you do and diligently wash your hands afterward.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Unfortunately, the signs of toxoplasmosis in a baby may not present themselves for months or even years, making it difficult to diagnose the disease early. They may include swollen lymph nodes, jaundice, low birth weight, hearing loss, seizures and more. Any of these symptoms on their own merit a trip to the doctor, who may screen your baby for toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a lifelong condition, and one that can necessitate one of many types of treatments, depending on the effects it has had on the body and mind.
Domestic cats are generally fastidiously clean, so you don't necessarily have to prevent any contact between your cat and your baby. In fact, introducing the two when you bring Baby home can help your cat adjust to his new sibling. While your cat doesn't necessarily carry any dangerous amount of bacteria, fecal matter or parasites on his body, you should always monitor his interaction with your baby, in case he inadvertently gets too close—a cuddly cat can make it difficult for an infant to breathe.
Parasites and More
Toxoplasma gondii isn't the only parasite that can live in a cat's feces, so it's best to keep babies away from the litter box. A baby doesn't know that he shouldn't play in the litter or touch feces, and doing so can make him contract what science refers to as a zoonotic disease. This is a disease that spreads from animals to humans, and people with undeveloped immune systems—like babies—are particularly susceptible to contracting illnesses like bacterial infections and worms. Roundworms can cause eye irritation or blindness, while hookworms—which can infect your child from skin contact with feces—create skin rashes and irritation. Naturally, symptoms like these necessitate medical attention no matter the cause. If your doctor determines that a parasitic infestation is the cause, he will prescribe an appropriate anti-parasite medication.
Supervision and Teaching
You know that you should always keep an eye on your baby, and this is especially true when you have a cat in the house. While your cat is unlikely to transmit feces-related zoonotic diseases from contact, he and your baby may not know how to act around each other. And of course, if the litter box is someplace where your baby can access it, consider moving it to a place he can't reach.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.