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The Straight Poop on Toxoplasmosis

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

What is your take on the whole pregnant + cat = toxoplasmosis thing?

I’m newly pregnant (just 6 weeks) and just tested negative for toxoplasmosis, which means I haven’t been exposed to the parasite and do not have the antibodies to protect me and my fetus from future infection.

I have two cats and my husband has been feeding and cleaning their box for the last week as we’ve waited for the test results. This whole time I’ve just been enjoying the break because I was so sure that I would test positive. And why wouldn’t I? I had outdoor cats from birth until I left for college. I slept with my face buried in their fuzzy bellies every night. I kissed them, hugged them and was a lazy handwasher as a kid. By all rights I should have tested positive for the antibodies, but I didn’t.

So now I am trying to figure out how I am going to handle it and how closely I am going to listen to my doctor who, in my opinion, has an overly simplistic and unrealistic line of advice on this one: No cat contact. No touching. At all. Period.

I don’t even see how I can avoid all cat contact. The cats live with us. I work at home 50%. My husband is often away for days on business trips. I don’t want to send my cats away for 8 months!

I’m looking for a less hysterical approach that will still allow me to sleep at night. From what I can deduce, as long as we keep the cat box clean, the chances for indoor cats to pass on toxoplasmosis are very very low. Right?

What did you do, or what would you do in my shoes?

Thanks,
M

Oh my goodness, far be it from me to say a trained medical professional is being ridiculous, but your doctor is being RIDICULOUS.

Toxoplasmosis — a mostly symptomless parasitic infection — is indeed a risky thing to contract right before or during pregnancy, since it can get passed to your placenta and fetus. But it’s really rare, and really easy to prevent. And prevention does NOT have to include giving your cat away or living in terror for eight months that it will do something horrific like JUMP IN YOUR LAP or SLEEP IN YOUR BED.

I have a cat. An indoor cat. As soon as I found out I was pregnant, the litter box became Jason’s responsibility. And…that’s it. That’s all I did. I continued to pet and nuzzle and generally love on my cat as much as I ever have.

Here are the standard tips for pregnant women and toxoplasmosis:

1) Don’t clean the litter box yourself.
2) Have your partner clean the litter box on a regular basis.
3) If you must clean the litter box yourself, wear rubber gloves and a breathing mask.
4) Don’t adopt any new cats during your pregnancy or pet any strays.
5) Feed your cats commercially-manufactured food or well-cooked table scraps — no raw meat.
6) Keep your cats indoors so they aren’t hunting (and eating) birds or other small animals.

And that’s it. Other than the litter box thing, I’m guessing your indoor cats are not in the high-risk feline population, regularly lunching on raw chicken carcasses and live rodents. I’m guessing you don’t operate a cat rescue shelter out of your home or routinely offer to change the litter at your friends’ homes. I’m guessing this will probably not be the last minor pregnancy concern that your doctor takes an unreasonable all-or-nothing approach to.

Even if a pregnant woman DOES contract the parasite, it’s not even a sure thing that she’ll pass it on to her baby. If she does, yes, it’s a big deal– I don’t want to sound like I’m pooh-poohing it altogether, though it can be quickly treated with antibiotics. BUT if you contract the infection in your first trimester, you have about a 15 percent chance of passing it along. That percentage jumps to 30 percent in the second trimester and 60 percent in the third. But there’s more good news — the severity of the infection and risk to your baby is highest in the first trimester, when your transmission odds are the lowest.

But…seriously. Just don’t change the litter box. Don’t touch their poop. Or their butts. You’ll be fine. It’s really unlikely that full-time indoor cats who are fed well-cooked or commercial cat food will ever contract the parasite. And the parasite lives in their intestines — not their FUR.

The parasite also lives in the tissue of other animals. Animals you may eat, particularly pork, lamb and game. (But I bet your doctor probably didn’t order you to avoid pork chops for eight months, right?) But just like the cat thing, prevention is relatively easy: heat. A little heat and proper food cooking and handling techniques will put your risk of getting infected at very, very low. At home, freeze meat before cooking it. Use a meat thermometer. Wash your hands and counters thoroughly and regularly. Don’t touch raw chicken and like, stick your fingers in your mouth. You know, the stuff you PROBABLY DO ALREADY. Avoid raw or smoked-only meat preparations at restaurants and make sure your food is cooked properly before digging in. (Though I ate beef tartare and lots of raw seafood in the days right before finding out I was pregnant both times. Awesome. Tested negative for toxoplasmosis both times. Awesomer.)

********


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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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