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You can change the litter box safely while you're pregnant, but it's better to have someone else do this chore if possible. The concern here is toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can be transmitted through cat poop (such as in kitty litter or outdoor soil where cats have defecated).
If you had toxoplasmosis in the past, you're generally considered immune, which can protect your unborn child from getting the infection. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 20 percent of people in the United States age 12 and older have had toxoplasmosis – often without even knowing it. Toxoplasmosis can cause flu-like symptoms in adults, but sometimes there aren't any signs of the illness.
But if you first get toxoplasmosis when you're pregnant, it's possible you could get sick and pass the illness on to your baby. And if a baby catches toxoplasmosis in the early stages of pregnancy, it can cause serious birth defects, such as eye and brain damage.
These possible effects sound scary, but before you resort to giving away your kitty, take comfort in knowing that indoor cats are very unlikely to carry toxoplasmosis. Also, if you've been around cats for a while, you may be immune. If you're worried that you may have the condition, ask your provider to check with a blood test.
If you've been infected during pregnancy, you can be treated with medication, but you and your baby will have to be closely monitored during pregnancy and after birth.
You can reduce your chances of getting the infection during pregnancy by taking these precautions:
- Have someone else change the kitty litter – you'll never have a better excuse!
- If you have to change the litter yourself, do it once a day. It takes at least 24 hours for the litter to become infectious.
- Wear gloves while changing the kitty litter or gardening.
- Wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
By the way, cat feces isn't the only way to contract toxoplasmosis: Eating raw or undercooked meat, or fruits and vegetables that haven't been properly washed, peeled, or cooked also puts you at risk. Be extra careful to wash and cook food thoroughly.