Toxoplasmosis, Cats and Pregnancy

Written By Dr Megan Rowles

Many people are aware that pregnant women should be careful around cats because they can carry toxoplasmosis, which causes birth defects and abortions. 

There are however a lot of misunderstandings about this disease that I would like to clarify for the sake of the cats.

If you have any concerns or questions about your personal health please discuss these with your doctor.

Toxoplasmosis is a nasty disease caused by the toxoplasma parasite, which can infect any mammal or bird, but cats are the only animals in which it can complete its life cycle, with the parasite eggs, oocysts, shed in cat faeces for approximately two weeks until the cat develops immunity. 

Cats are more likely to become infected if they hunt or are fed raw meat and may become sick due to the parasite, although this is relatively uncommon.

You, like many people around the world, may have already been infected by toxoplasma without knowing it. 

Your immune system defeated the invader, unless you were unlucky enough to be immune suppressed (for example having chemotherapy) or pregnant at the time you were infected.  

Sources of infection are most commonly eating oocysts in undercooked (rare/medium-rare) meat, drinking unpasteurised milk or contaminated water, not washing vegetables properly or not washing your hands properly after gardening, playing in a sandpit or cleaning your cat’s litter tray.

Vital to note here is that infection comes from consuming the toxoplasma oocysts, so food preparation and personal hygiene are key factors in preventing exposure. 

Another useful detail is while oocysts can survive for a long time in the environment, they do take 24 hours to become infectious. 

So if you are unable to avoid the job of cleaning cat litter trays while pregnant, wear gloves and clean the trays twice a day, before the faeces can become dangerous. 

Toxoplasmosis does not actually come from direct contact with a cat unless you own a particularly gross/elderly/unwell cat that gets faeces on itself and waits longer than 24 hours before grooming. 

In this case, contact your vet as your cat quite likely requires medical attention.

So, before you put up a ‘free to a good home’ ad, please talk to your doctor about the level of toxoplasmosis risk your cat actually poses. 

After all, when you are curled up on the couch with morning sickness a purring feline friend might be just what the doctor ordered.