pregnant woman hoping to keep her cats during pregnancy

Question: I have a couple of cats and I’ve heard that cats carry a disease that can harm a fetus. Do I need to get rid of my pets?

Answer: There’s no need to send your cats packing. Since you’ve lived with cats for a while, the chances are pretty good that you’ve already caught the disease called toxoplasmosis and have developed immunity to it. It’s estimated that around 40 percent of the American population has been infected, and the rates of infection are higher among people who have cats, as well as among those who eat raw meat or drink unpasteurized milk. If you weren’t tested prenatally to see if you were immune, you probably won’t be tested now unless you show symptoms of the disease. Some practitioners will run tests regularly on their pregnant patients who have a lot of cats.

Here are some precautions you can take to avoid infection:

  • Have your vet test your cats to see if they have an active infection. If one or more do, board them at a kennel or ask a friend to take them for at least six weeks (the time during which the infection is contagious). If they aren’t infected, you can keep them that way by not feeding them raw meat, not allowing them to roam outside, and not allowing them to hunt birds or mice. Have someone else handle the litter box. If you must do it, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands when you’re finished, as well as when you touch a cat. The litter should be changed daily.
  • Wear gloves when you garden. Don’t garden in soil that cats may have used as their bathroom. If you have children, don’t let them play in sand that may have been used by cats.
  • Wash fruits and veggies, especially those grown in home gardens, rinsing them carefully, and/or peel or cook them.
  • Avoid eating raw or under-cooked meat, or unpasteurized milk. When you dine out, order your meat well done.

Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meats.