Toxoplasma is a microscopic parasite which can infect humans. Most human carriers experience very mildly or no symptoms because their immune system is able to fight off the infection effectively. However, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems need to be much more cautious about toxoplasma, because it leads to serious complications as well as significant birth defects.
So what does this have to do with cats, and why are we talking about it? Well, toxoplasma is carried by cats and found in cat poo.
If you’re a cat owner starting a family, then, of course, this can sound alarming and you’ll naturally want to avoid any potential risks. The thing is, despite a number of quite sensationalist headlines, cats are not the only carriers of toxoplasma and in fact, if you do catch it, it is unlikely to be from your cat, and more likely to be from eating unwashed fruits and vegetables or undercooked meats.
If you’re a cat lover and become pregnant, then following these steps will vastly reduce your risk of picking up the parasite:
- Follow general advice for pregnant women about food safety, and always give fresh fruits and vegetables a good scrub!
- Wear gloves when gardening and handling soil (even if you don’t own a cat yourself, you never know, a neighbour’s moggy might have taken a fancy to your flowerbed!)
- Ask somebody else to clean your cat’s litter tray (after all, it’s the perfect excuse to avoid the job). If there isn’t somebody around to help, use gloves and a face mask as you clean the tray, and then wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
- It actually takes 3 days for toxoplasma eggs to become infectious in your cat’s poo, so if the tray is changed daily then there should be no problem.
- If you have young children, keep sandpits covered so that no cheeky felines can use them as a loo.
- Help your cat to stay healthy by feeding her a premium diet, as cats become infected by eating infected prey, or undercooked meat which contains the parasite.
- The large majority of toxoplasma is shed during the first year of a cat’s life so an older cat may still shed but at very infrequent intervals (basically, the longer you’ve had your cat, the less likely she is to be a risk).
Above all, simply following common sense hygiene and avoiding direct contact with your cat’s loo will mean you can live harmoniously and safely with your kitty throughout your pregnancy. There is certainly no reason to part with your furry pal, and cuddling and stroking your cat cannot spread the infection to you. Growing up with a pet can be a lovely way for children to learn about caring for animals, so don’t be troubled by misconceptions.