Like, how doctors ask you to stay away from smoke and alcohol if you have a heart problem, similarly your doctor would also advice you to stay away from litter boxes during pregnancy! Why? How can a litter box affect your pregnancy and your unborn baby? Why should you keep away from it? Well, the problem is not the litter box, the problem is the cat feces present inside the litter box. Yes, no matter how much you love your cat and no matter how much you like taking care of it, the fact is that cat litter can infect you with a condition known as toxoplasmosis which can cause you flu like symptoms and also affect the health of your unborn child.
However, if you have been having your cat for some time and if you have been cleaning its litter for quite some time, before you got pregnant, then there are chances that you might have already contracted the condition. However, the good news is that if you have already been exposed to this condition before getting pregnant, the body tends to develop an immunity towards it and there are less chances of it affecting the baby. Nevertheless, litter boxes and pregnancy should never be mixed for safety and precautionary purposes.
How can Cleaning Litter Boxes affect Your Pregnancy?
Well, the problem arises when your cat is infected with a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii, which causes the rare, but serious blood infection known as toxoplasmosis. If a pregnant woman gets infected with this parasite, it may get transmitted through the placenta leading to birth defects in the unborn child. How can you get infected with this parasite? Well, cleaning litter boxes containing your cat feces can expose you to the parasite.
The cat feces contain the oocysts (eggs of the parasite) which can infect you. How does the parasite get inside your cat? Well, if your cat has been eating uncooked, or partially cooked meat, or drinking infected milk, then this parasite can develop and multiply in the intestine of your cat. The Toxoplasma gondii tends to thrive in hosts that are warm blooded, like mice and rats. So, if you think your cat has been snacking on them, you need to keep away from its litter at all situations. Though, it is possible that your cat doesn't have it, but then, why take the risk?
How do you Know if YOU are Infected?
Symptoms wise, most of the women infected by this condition do not experience any. And if you ask me about how many people tend to get infected with this parasite, then you will be shocked to know that according to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 60 million people in the United States including men, women, and children have been infected with the Toxoplasma parasite and have developed immunity towards it. Another study by CDC reveals that only 15% of the woman in their childbearing age are immune to the parasite. Though the symptoms are very rare, they may include the following.
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle aches
In order to be sure, you can also get in touch with your healthcare specialist and get yourself checked for the same. A blood test can reveal the presence of the parasite. Detection of the condition during early pregnancy can make it possible for the doctors to keep your baby safe from being infected. However, if you continue to clean your cat litter, or, are exposed to this virus in your later stages of pregnancy through uncooked or raw cooked meat, or infected fruits and vegetables, then your baby is at high risk.
Studies reveal that because of the infection of this parasite during the first trimester, there are 15% chances that your baby will also get infected. If you are infected in the second trimester, there are 30% chances of your baby getting infected. During the third trimester, there are 60% chances of your baby to get infected! This can create the following birth defects in your baby.
- Premature birth
- Learning disabilities
- Hearing disabilities
- Visual problems
Should You Keep Your Cat AWAY?
Well, you don't need to keep your cat away, you just need to keep the litter boxes away! Which is why, make sure that you do not clean the litter box in any case. Have someone else clean the litter box DAILY. Yes, the interesting part is that when your cat sheds oocysts, they take about 1-5 days to get active and infect you further. So make sure that someone else changes the cat feces in the litter box. In fact, you shouldn't even touch the soil in the garden or anywhere else, because there are chances that it may also contain the remains of cat feces. You can keep your cat if you are sure that your cat doesn't eat raw and infected meat. It is also advisable for you to stay away from stray or adopted cats.
As a precaution, do not clean the litter box at all, and wear gloves if you absolutely have no choice. Make sure you stay away from direct contact with soil and that you do not eat partially cooked meat in any case. Also wash all the raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating. Though toxoplasmosis is very rare, studies still reveal that it affects almost 3,000 newborn babies in the United States each year. So take caution and stay safe. Have a healthy and safe pregnancy.