True or False: Pregnant Women Should Avoid Cats
If you’ve ever wondered whether it was true that pregnant women should stay away from cats because their feces can cause birth defects, here’s the somewhat surprising answer: yes and no.
It turns out that cats do expel a parasite in their feces that can be harmful to a fetus. But this parasite is also easily contracted in other ways, not just through cats. And there are plenty of ways to prevent this parasite from affecting a fetus, so expectant mothers don't need to shoo away cats for fear of their babies' health.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which normally causes minimal symptoms or goes entirely undetected in most humans and animals. Cats spread the parasite via their feces after eating contaminated small animals like birds or rodents. While the cats are rarely affected by the infection, the parasites they expel are potentially dangerous to human pregnancy.
If a pregnant woman cleans an infected cat's litter box, she is exposed to Toxoplasma gondii. If the woman touches her mouth after coming in contact with the parasite, she may become infected and place her fetus is at risk for serious complications, either at birth or later in life.
At or before birth, Toxoplasma gondii can cause serious eye infections or other eye problems, brain damage, or even stillbirth or an aborted fetus. And while many babies infected with toxoplasmosis may not exhibit any symptoms at first, they may eventually suffer from blindness or intellectual disability as a result.
Any cat let outdoors or fed raw or undercooked meat may carry Toxoplasma gondii. Any contaminated feces from cats that have contracted the infection are a danger to a woman’s pregnancy.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.