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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Your cats, your pregnancy, your baby

A disproportionate amount of cats are abandoned, re-homed or given away to shelters because of human mothers becoming pregnant. Is this necessary? Here is what we will find out, and what you can do about it.

The main concerns revolve around having cats around during pregnancy, and having cats around when the baby is born.

During pregnancy
What pregnant moms, their families, and their gynaecologists, will worry about, is the toxoplasmosis risk. Toxoplasmosis is caused by the parasite toxoplasma gondii, or T.gondii. T.gondii is not visible to the naked eye. Pregnant women infected by toxoplasmosis can suffer from abortion, stillbirth or cause a central nervous system infection in the baby.

Most adults in their lifetime will have been exposed to T.gondii and developed an immunity to it. The most likely way to be infected by T.gondii is to eat raw or poorly cooked meat, and unpasteurised dairy products.

How does a human get this from cats then?

First of all, the cat must be harbouring T.gondii in its system. This is through eating live prey such as rodents, and from soil that has been contaminated by T.gondii. And, like humans, they can also get infected by T.gondii by eating raw or undercooked meat and unpasteurised dairy products.

Once infected by the T.gondii parasite, the cat will shed it in its poo. In order for a human to get infected by T.gondii from a cat, she will need to eat infected cat poo.

Since the risk of a human eating T.gondii infected cat poo is not great, it is far more likely to contract toxoplasmosis from eating raw and undercooked meats and unpasteurised dairy products.

Here are the preventive measures you can take as a pregnant mom and cat owner.
  1. Keep your cats indoors! This is to prevent him from hunting infected prey and being exposed to contaminated soil. 
  2. You and your cat should avoid raw or undercooked meats and unpasteurised dairy products. 
  3. If your cat is indoors and not on a risky diet mentioned in point 2, he is likely to be free from T.gondii. However, if you would like to play it safe, send your cat to the vet for a T.gondii lab test to confirm he is free from this parasite. You can also show the lab test results if you have a misinformed overprotective ob-gyn.
  4. Do not eat cat poop. Also, wash your hands after clearing cat litter, wash the litter scoop, wear gloves, or second someone else to do litter duties.
With these preventive measures in place, you will have a safe pregnancy with your pet cats, toxoplasmosis free.


Having a baby around with cats
There are three main concerns parents of both cats and human babies have. One, whether the baby will be allergic to cat fur. Two, whether the baby, having a weaker immune system than adults, will catch any diseases from the pet cat. Three, whether the cat will show aggression towards the arrival of a new family member, a human baby. Let's look at these issues in turn.

I would like to quote from one of our adopters, Vivien, who majored in life sciences, on the issue of allergies. "Only 10% of an entire population of people are allergic to pets, cats in this instance. And of that 10%, an even smaller proportion are babies...An early exposure to allergens creates early resistance." Because the possibility of the baby being allergic to cat fur is so small, it is unnecessary to rehome your cat before the baby even arrives. In all our experience with families adopting cats, we have not heard of a single case of babies having cat fur allergies. Your cat is your child too, do act on facts and not impulse regarding abandoning your cat for the baby.

Feline diseases that can be spread to humans are ones like toxoplasmosis, explained above. The other zoonotic diseases that can be spread are also through cat-poo-to-mouth exposure. Ensure that your baby does not eat any cat poop or litter. House cats are unlikely to get any zoonotic diseases if they are indoors, and do not eat any contaminated food or water. Maintain proper hygiene in food preparation and clearing when it comes to your cat's food. Make sure your cat does not drink water from floor traps, drains and such, and only from his water bowl. Deworm your cat on schedule. (Even without a baby in the house, these standards should already be in place.) If you want to be even more cautious, if your cat ever gets diarrhoea (the most common symptom of an infectious zoonotic disease), after the vet visit and until the diarrhoea clears up, distance baby away from your cat.

When the baby finally arrives, will kitty and baby be able to get along? Will your cat attack your baby? It is possible that your cat will get stressed when baby arrives, but this can be prevented with proper preparation before baby arrives, not when. This article by Gary Loewenthal is chockful of advice on how to integrate a new human member to the family with your cat. Before you deliver, get kitty used to all the baby paraphernalia in the house. Reduce stress in your cat with remedies such as Feliway. Allow kitty to smell baby's clothes brought back from the hospital by another family member while you are still there. Reward kitty with treats when he smells his soon-to-be new sibling's clothes. This will ease your cat's apprehension about having his home 'invaded' and thus lower any aggression response. Do read the rest of Loewenthal's article for more details on how to connect baby and cat when you come home with your new family member. The main keys are preparation, and reducing your cat's stress and thus possibility of any aggression.

I leave you with this video to demonstrate that cats and babies can co-exist!


Further reading:
Cats and Babies by ASPCA
Prepare Your Pet to Welcome Your New Baby by Dr Karen Becker



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