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Is it true that coming into contact with cat feces can harm the unborn baby of pregnant women, whether by a mishap handling kitty litter or gardening in an area where cats may have relieved themselves?

If this is true, how can pregnant women make sure that they stay safe, since content with feces is generally unwitting?

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migrated from Oct 23 '13 at 23:48

This question came from our site for pet owners, caretakers, breeders, veterinarians, and trainers.

related on Pets… – user4784 Oct 25 '13 at 9:21
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Not entirely on topic but still relevant. My wife contracted Toxoplasmosis while she was pregnant with our 3rd child. It all ended well but it was one heck of a cliffhanger and could easily have resulted in our daughter being severely handicapped or dead. We have no idea how my wife contracted it. So a few pointers may be helpful for others:

  1. Get yourself tested before and during pregnancy. Toxoplasmosis during is pregnancy pretty rare and many doctors know next to nothing about it. We only detected it since my wife is Biology Scientist and we actually had to find a capable Ph.D. student at a local university to get the medical help we needed.
  2. A large part of the population has been infected once and is therefore immune. They still carry the parasite, but it's harmless for the fetus. It's only dangerous if you contract it during pregnancy.
  3. Prevention of Toxoplasmosis (e.g. may not be very effective and/or actionable. My wife grew up deep in farm country, blatantly violating the prevention rules every single day and never contracted it. Still she got it during pregnancy when we were living in the big city and being intentionally careful and super clean.
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Toxoplasmosis is a real threat. +1 for getting tested before and during pregnancy! Sushi (raw fish) is another way to get it, so we avoided these kinds of food during pregnancy. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Oct 24 '13 at 17:08
See the follow-up question: Intentional infection with Toxoplasmosis before getting pregnant? – unor Oct 27 '13 at 22:15
Great follow up question, thanks. – Hilmar Oct 28 '13 at 10:50

The Centers for Disease Control report that there is a risk of exposure to toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by a parasite. This parasite can be found in cat feces, though the CDC reports that exposure is more likely from undercooked meat or gardening. (They don't say, but I assume the gardening risk is through animal droppings in general, not just cats.)

The CDC gives the following advice to mitigate the risk:

  • If you own a cat, have a non-pregnant person change the litter box every day. If there is no one else to change the litter box, wear gloves and wash hands with soap and running water after changing the litter.

  • Risk may be reduced if the litter box is changed every day.

  • Keep cats indoors.

  • Avoid adopting or handling stray cats.

  • Feed cats only canned or dried commercial cat food, never undercooked or raw meat.

  • Do not bring a new cat into your house that might have been an outdoor cat or might have been fed raw meat.

For more information and citations, see the linked article.

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Monica Cellio's answer already mentions recommendations if you own a cat and most of all that you're much more likely to contract toxoplasmosis through undercooked meat (most of the contamination cases) and gardening — you may add insufficiently washed legums and fruits. There are much more informations on the CDC website.

I feel it's also important to understand why the risks of being contaminated by a cat is small :

  • the cat can contaminate only once in his live ;
  • it takes 2 to 5 days for the eggs to develop under good conditions (that is, feces of an infected cat cannot contaminate you the first day, hence the recommandation to clean the litter everyday) ;
  • eggs need good conditions to develop (e.g. feces in litter or soil) ;
  • the cat will be able to contaminate for only a few days to a few weeks (possibly longer if he has specific diseases like FIV or FeLV) ;
  • you'd have to ingest those eggs contained in (few days old) cat feces to be contaminated.

If you follow basic hygiene rules, it's unlikely that the conditions are met. It's even more unlikely if your cat never goes outdoor and only eats commercial cat food.

However there is no zero risk, and indeed consequences on the baby can be quite terrible, so it's important to be particularly careful during the pregnancy. But again, pay more attention to your food, because it's by food that you're most likely to contract toxoplasmosis.

(Disclaimer : I'm neither a physician nor a vet, just reporting informations published on other (trustable, IMO) websites.)

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Hello Skippy!! :) +1 I want to accept all the answers – user4784 Oct 24 '13 at 13:03

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