Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii and can be passed to humans through contaminated cat feces.
However, the risk of being exposed to the disease by your household cat is very small. It is not necessary to avoid contact with your cat while you are pregnant. You should continue to enjoy your cat's companionship during this time.
How do I protect myself and my baby?
You may want to consider being tested for the antibodies to toxoplasmosis prior to becoming pregnant. If you have already been exposed and developed antibodies to the infection, you cannot be reinfected.
Regardless of your immunity status, however, it's always best to practice reasonable prevention. With proper precautions, infection can be avoided:
- It is more common to be exposed to the disease through gardening activities (due to the parasite being in the dirt) or by eating raw or undercooked meat or unwashed fruits and vegetables that may harbor the parasite than through contact with your cat or its litter box.
- Wear gloves while gardening and wash your hands when you are through, as the parasite can be deposited in the soil by infected neighborhood cats to whom you have not had the same level of exposure to as with your own cat.
- Avoid raw or undercooked meat and do not feed raw or undercooked meat to your cat.
- Do not using a knife exposed to raw meat on cooked meat.
- Keep your cat off countertops where food is prepared.
- Clean the cat box daily and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. The parasites are not infectious when first passed by cats in their feces. The cysts do not become infectious for 1 - 5 days after being passed. Most cats are fastidious about cleaning and do not leave feces on their fur; therefore, common contact with a cat is not a risk factor.
- Try to keep your cat indoors (if the cat will accept it), especially if your cat tends to hunt rodents or birds, which is often how cats are exposed to the disease.
What are the symptoms of toxoplasmosis?
Most people who get toxoplasmosis do not get sick, but some people will get swollen glands, muscle aches and feel as though they have the "flu." If you are pregnant, experience these symptoms and have reason to suspect you have been exposed to toxoplasmosis, consult your obstetrician immediately. Medication may be given in certain circumstances. Knowledge of the infection is important, as it may affect your baby's care and treatment after birth.
Potential effects of toxoplasmosis on a pregnancy
If you are exposed to toxoplasmosis in the first trimester of pregnancy, the chances of infection in the developing fetus are small, but serious. At this stage of pregnancy, infection in the fetus may result in severe birth defects or miscarriage.
In the second or third trimester of pregnancy, the fetus is more likely to be infected if exposed to the disease, but the disease is less likely to cause fatalities. If affected, the fetus could experience: premature birth, low birth weight, fever, jaundice, abnormalities of the retina, abnormal head size, convulsions, or brain calcification.
What should I do if I suspect my cat has toxoplasmosis?
If you are concerned that your cat may have been exposed to, or has contracted, toxoplasmosis, consult your veterinarian. Most cats do not become ill from toxoplasmosis unless they are immunocompromised.