You may have heard the common wisdom that proclaims, “Pregnant woman should not scoop the litter box,” but have you ever wondered why that is? It all has to do with an illness caused by certain single-celled organism, which is known as toxoplasmosis.
What is toxoplasmosis?
The parasite that causes toxoplasmosis is scientifically known as Toxopasma gondii. While the presence of T. gondii has been controversially linked to mental illnesses and insensitively referred to as the cause of “crazy cat lady syndrome,” in truth many healthy adults experience and fight off a toxoplasmosis infection without even noticing it.
However, toxoplasmosis is of special concern for pregnant women. In the immunocompromised state of pregnancy, an expecting mother may experience mild flu-like symptoms. Unfortunately, the infection could cause a miscarriage and serious birth defects for her developing child.
How is toxoplasmosis spread?
Although, humans may contract toxoplasmosis by coming in contact with cat droppings, which contain the infective part of T. gondii’s life cycle, it’s fairly uncommon. Many people are unaware that they can contract toxoplasmosis from infected soil in their gardens, by consuming root vegetables that have not been thoroughly washed, and by consuming raw meat.
Birds and rodents can also be infected this way, and T. gondii has its ways of ensuring infected prey animals are consumed by various cat species to perpetuate the parasitic life cycle. Cats who are carrying T. gondii will only drop its “eggs” for a few weeks, which then need a day or so outside of the cat in order to be viable in the next host.
What precautions can be taken?
In order to lower the chances do not feed your cat raw meat during your pregnancy and do not let your kitty go outside where he or she may consume infected rodents or birds. If you have a sandbox in your yard, cover it to avoid neighborhood cats using it as a litter box.
Since T. gondii needs a day or two to become infective, cleaning the litter box daily can reduce the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis if your cat still managed to pick it up. Dump it once every three weeks. Dump the litter completely once every three weeks to minimize chances of your kitty contracting it again from contaminated litter.
Have someone else clean the box for you
Even though the chances of contracting toxoplasmosis from your household litter box are low, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Whenever possible, have someone else clean the litter box for you.
If you aren’t able to find anyone to clean the litter box for you, cover your face with a surgical mask, wear gloves, and thoroughly wash up immediately after with hot soapy water. Self-cleaning litter boxes may sound like a good idea, but keep in mind that they aren’t maintenance free. Someone will still have to empty receptacles when they become full.
Are you looking for someone to clean the litter box during your pregnancy? Maybe you just want to give your partner or kids a break from helping out? Hire a cat sitter to come do the “heavy lifting” for you!
Candace Elise Hoes is a blogger at Kim’s Urban Hounds. She is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at California College of the Arts.