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Toxoplasmosis: What It is (And Why You Shouldn’t Panic)

June 25, 2012

The word “toxoplasmosis” strikes fear in the hearts of pregnant cat-owners everywhere. While many women are afraid of it, most don’t really understand what it is, how dangerous it can be, and how to avoid it. And though you want to be careful not to contract it, doing so should be easy and will not involve giving up your beloved pet!

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that is found in many different species of animals and birds, and causes a toxoplasmosis infection in its host. The parasite can be acquired by consuming raw or undercooked meat, contaminated soil, or infectious particles found in animal waste, including the cat litter belonging to an infected animal.

While we all typically avoid eating raw meat and don’t tend to dine on actual dirt, pregnant women who own cats do come into contact with their litter, and may need to take precautions. This is because the infection, while normally mild in healthy adults, can be passed along to an unborn baby and may result in premature birth and low birth weight, as well as damage to vision, hearing, and the central nervous system.

But before you get nervous about your kitty’s litter box, know that most indoor cats will never become infected with toxoplasmosis. The parasite is acquired by a cat when it goes outside and eats rodents or birds which are infected. Your typical indoor cat is never exposed to the parasite at all. But to be safe, it is recommended that pregnant women simply refrain from cleaning and emptying their cats’ litter box, whether your cat stays indoors or roams free. Have your partner handle the cat’s litter, and you should feel confident that you’re in the clear. If you must empty the litter box, wear latex gloves and a disposable mask. While this is likely more protection than you need, it’s better to be safe and prevent yourself from worrying!

And if you do find yourself concerned over toxoplasmosis, or have reason to believe that you may have been exposed to the parasite which causes it, talk to your doctor. There are tests that can be done to detect whether you carry antibodies for the infection, as well as tests that can determine whether your baby has been infected.

While it can be easy to let fears and worries mount when you are expecting, don’t add toxoplasmosis to your list. As long as you are practicing safe and hygenic behavior regarding your cat’s litter box, your risk is minimal.

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