Do Pets And Pregnancy Mix?
You don’t have to go to the movies to see horror shows of zoonotic diseases that jump from animals to humans. Just watch the news or read a periodical, and you’ll find plenty to occupy your worst nightmares.
These doomsday scenarios are just an everyday reality in a veterinarian’s world. Through our training, we are ordained to spread the word and educate the public to both reduce the transmission of these diseases and also dispel any panic-stricken misconceptions.
Sometimes this can be challenging.
Sarah brought her 9-year-old cat Whiskers to our hospital for an exam. As I entered the room, Sarah was in the middle of blowing her nose and wiping tears from her eyes.
“Sorry about that, Doc. I just found out I’m pregnant and, well, I’m sort-of emotional right now.” Sarah reached down to pet Whiskers.
“No problem,” I consoled. “We all get emotional sometimes.”
“I know but, but …” stammered Sarah, “poor old Whiskers.”
As I gazed at Whiskers, I wondered what Sarah meant. Whiskers seemed fine to me.
“What’s wrong with Whiskers?” “You mean, you don’t know? Hello, I’m pregnant, and pregnant women should not be around cats. It’s not good for the baby,” scolded Sarah. Then she quickly added, “Oops, sorry about that …”
“No worries,” I reassured. “I totally get it. Now, I think you’re referring to a disease called toxoplasmosis. It’s a disease that cats get and, if transmitted to a pregnant woman, it can potentially cause birth defects.”
Tears welled up in Sarah’s eyes, but before she could say anything, I continued.
“You must be thinking that you need to find Whiskers a new home since you’re pregnant, but I don’t think you need to worry. If I recall, Whiskers has been indoors ever since you got her eight years ago. Does she ever go outside? Has she ever caught a mouse or bird and eaten it?”
Sarah shook her head no. “We keep her indoors to prevent her from getting any illness from other cats and so that she doesn’t get hit by a car. She only eats cat food, and I’ve never seen her eat a dead animal.”
I explained to Sarah that cats get toxoplasmosis from eating animals that are infected.
Soon after contracting the disease, a cat’s poop would contain this protozoan parasite. If a person comes in contact with the feces, they could potentially get infected with the organism.
This infective period only lasts for a few weeks, then the cat’s poop is no longer a concern.
“For peace of mind,” I said, “we’ll take a blood sample from Whiskers to see if she’s infected.”
A few days later, I called Sarah with the good news. The test revealed that Whiskers had been exposed to the toxoplasmosis parasite, but it was a long time ago.
This meant that it was unlikely that Whiskers would pass the organism in her stool.
Just to be safe, I told Sarah that her husband needed to clean the litter box throughout her pregnancy.
With a gleeful hoot, Sarah yelled to her husband the good news: “Whiskers can stay!” and “Honey, you’re in charge of scooping the poop.”
Dr. John Kaya is director of the Windward Community College veterinary technician program.