Cat Caution

Many people have pets in their homes long before they have children. The pets are an important part of the family picture, adding pleasure, comfort, and companionship. When a new baby arrives, and even before, the family dynamic changes and each "living being" in the home has to find their new place in the order of things. Pets are very much a part of this process as well.

Cats And Pregnancy

If you are a cat owner, then there are a few things to bear in mind during pregnancy and after the baby is born. Indoor cats usually require a litter tray to accommodate their needs. Under normal conditions, cleaning a litter tray and caring for the cat is something that requires little thought. However, when a woman is pregnant, the litter tray becomes a big deal. There is potential for serious complications for her unborn baby should she come in contact with a common parasite found in cats. A disease known as toxoplasmosis can be contracted from a cat litter box, especially if the cat spends time outdoors or fancies eating birds or mice.

The Effects Of Toxoplasmosis On An Unborn Baby

If a woman contracts toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, her baby can be seriously harmed. Blindness, epilepsy, or mental retardation can result, as can cause damage to the baby's central nervous system. The gravest impact occurs during the first trimester of pregnancy. Although only about 30 percent of newborns exhibit birth defects from toxoplasmosis, the long-term effects may show up years later.

People can contract toxoplasmosis from eating raw or undercooked meat that has a parasite in it, or from eating vegetables that were grown in contaminated soil. Toxoplasmosis causes mild illness to adults with symptoms that are similar to the flu or a cold. Sore throat, fever, swollen glands, and general malaise, are all associated with toxoplasmosis. If a woman has contracted the disease before conception, the baby will not be in danger. When the disease is contracted for the first time during pregnancy, the risk is great.

How Do I Know If I've Been Exposed?

In order to find out if there has been exposure to toxoplasmosis, a blood test can be done which will show the antibodies against the disease. If there are antibodies, then there has been exposure. A later test, during the pregnancy, can determine if the exposure was during the pregnancy in which case the mother will be given medication and the baby will be treated at birth to reduce the effects of the disease.

Preventing The Problem

There are some effective ways to prevent contracting toxoplasmosis during pregnancy. Adopting a stray cat from the street can be a very tempting act. However, pregnancy is not the time to do it. If a cat is already part of the family, keep it indoors. If it is an outdoor cat, keep it off the bed and away from the face. If at all possible, avoid cleaning the litter tray entirely. If there is no option, then change the litter every day, since the feces are not infectious until they are 24 hours old. Wear rubber gloves and a mask, and be sure to wash hands thoroughly after cleaning the box. The disease can become airborne after 24 hours, which means it can be breathed in and cause infection. That is why it is imperative that the litter tray be cleaned every day. If the cat goes outdoors to defecate and uses a garden, keep in mind that the soil can be contaminated and proper protection is necessary to avoid infection.