Can I get Toxoplasma gondii from my cat?

Above: Cat & Baby photo copyright by Andy Gunn.

Many pregnant women are concerned about contracting toxoplasmosis from their cat or the cat’s litter box.

Since I am tackling topics related to cats and babies, I thought it might be a good time to discuss the life cycle of Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) and the role that cats play in disease transmission.

My goal? To soothe some of the fear surrounding the contracting of congenital toxoplasmosis from your feline.

How great is the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis from a cat?

Risk from eating raw or undercooked meat, drinking unpasturized milk, and exposure through gardening or children’s sandboxes are some of the many ways people contract toxoplasmosis. Holly Nash, DVM wrote a good summary of the toxoplasma gondii and stated,

The cases of toxoplasmosis in the United States had been declining to 350 cases annually in the early 1990’s…

Toxplasma gondii is a protozoan organism that can be found in several different types of intermediate hosts.

Once a cat has been infected, the animal builds up an immunity and is rarely reinfected. During the first exposure to T. gondii a cat will excrete infectious oocysts (reproducing microorganisms) which require a one to five day incubation before they become infectious.

Only cats who eat the cysts can get infected. So, outdoor cats who hunt and eat rodents and birds or those fed raw food diets are the ones who may be exposed. For two weeks after the first exposure to the disease a cat excretes oocysts (after they are usually immune).

Tips for avoiding toxoplasmosis:

  • Change the litter box daily. The Toxoplasma parasite does not become infectious until one to five days after it is shed in a cat’s feces.
  • Pregnant women should avoid changing cat litter if possible. Otherwise wear disposable gloves and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after.
  • Keep cats indoors.
  • Do not adopt or handle stray cats, especially kittens.
  • Do not get a new cat while you are pregnant.
  • Feed cats only canned or dried commercial food or well-cooked table food, not raw or undercooked meats.
  • Keep your outdoor sandboxes covered.

Don’t get rid of your cat–it is not a necessary precaution to take when you are pregnant.

Although it is possible to get toxoplasmosis from an infected feline, the risk is extremely low, especially if you follow the recommendations above.

To combat the misinformation, the Humane Society of the United States contacted more than 31,000 obstetricians and gynecologists nationwide and provided them with a packet of information to help their patients understand the facts about the risks of toxoplasmosis.

Download Your Pregnancy Your Cat (PDF) or request Your Baby & Your Pet, or the clinician guide Toxoplasmosis: A Practical Guide for the Clinician, by sending a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope to: BabyPet eNews, 2100 L Street NW, Washington, DC 21007.

Read more on Toxoplasma gondii at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and read the toxoplasma gondii fact sheet.

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