Should I continue to clean up after my cats?
December 4, 2012 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Pregnant. Primary cat caretaker. Should I concerned about toxoplasmosis? Details within.

My cats are indoor-only, and have not had any parasites since they've come to me. They get occasional access to a screened-in porch with some potted plants on it. This may occur perhaps twice a week or less. I grow some nip and grass for them and a few basil plants for human use. Lately it's been cool enough for them to spend longer, unsupervised time on the porch and I've noticed that the cats do sometimes like to dig or nap in the soil. Should I be concerned? I understand that soil can contain toxoplasma gondii. The soil originated as store-bought bags from the garden center.

I've been continuing to clean the cats' litterboxes because I assumed that since they don't go outside and hunt, the chance of their being infected with toxoplasmosis was miniscule. The litter gets cleaned daily and I always wash my hands very thoroughly after handling the litter, but is this enough? I'm at 16 weeks now. Is there enough of a realistic risk for me to hand off all litter duties?

I admit I've been pretty cavalier about all the other pregnancy warnings such as avoiding deli meats, soft cheeses, etc in part because I don't want to spend the next 5 months afraid of everything. Is there a test for toxoplasmosis that I should request at my next doctor's visit?
posted by Kitty Stardust to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think that cats get toxoplasmosis from mice, so if your house is vermin-free you should be okay. But it couldn't hurt to use gloves to change the litter.
posted by chaiminda at 8:51 AM on December 4, 2012

The cats can be tested for toxoplasmosis, and so can you. I changed plenty of cat litter while pregnant and I wore latex gloves that were disposed of immediately post litter handling because I didn't know the toxo status of all of my cats. I ended up losing the pregnancy, but due to a chromosomal abnormality, nothing to do with toxoplasmosis.
posted by crankylex at 8:55 AM on December 4, 2012

Yup, they can test you for toxoplasmosis. If you've already been exposed, then my understanding is there's nothing to worry about. Regardless, this is certainly something you'll want to get your OB's advice on.
posted by plantbot at 8:56 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Interesting thing about toxoplasmosis - It takes up to three days outside the cat for it to form spores that can infect a human (basically, as the poop dries out).

So if you can't get anyone else to clean the cat box for you (at least daily) for a few months, just take care to keep the litter box(es) immaculate all the time - As soon as they use it, scoop it (and don't skimp on taking a bit more surrounding litter with each scoop than normal). Though you'll interact with the litter box more than normal, you'll actually reduce your chance of getting toxoplasmosis.

/ Though personally, I don't understand why people don't aggressively keep litter boxes clean all the time - Eeew, you have cat shit stinking up your house for a few hours! :)
posted by pla at 9:16 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

As noted you can be tested for toxoplasmosis, although I did not bother with getting it done.

I'm pregnant now, and my take on it was - even though it's unlikely that my cats are infected because they are indoor only (but we did adopt them at 1 year of age so who knows before that), there are so many other things I'm having to go through as a result of pregnancy - my partner doesn't have to worry about any eating restrictions or the incapacitating back pain or reflux or sciatica or leg cramps or any of this other stuff. I have to go in for doctor appointments every 2 weeks. I've had blood draws, ultrasounds, infections/antibiotics. And I'm staring down labor and delivery which doesn't look like a walk in the park either. So if he can help me out by taking over the litterbox duties for a few months, and it's legitimately to prevent something that, while rare, could kill the baby - I'm not going to lose sleep over that!

Deli meats and soft cheeses and stuff are different because I want to eat them. :-) But seriously, if you research the listeria outbreaks in the USA over the past few years you'll find that queso blanco/queso fresco are really the only ones in this country that have been associated with outbreaks (one also just happened with ricotta cheese, apparently - but also with cantaloupes).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:17 AM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, most soft cheeses in the US are pasteurized, so you're fine there, but listeria is not something to mess with. A woman in my pregnancy group was hospitalized for a month with it. I happily ate sushi and other foods with risks to pathogens that don't cross the placenta, but avoided raw cheeses (sad!) and deli meats and such, because of that real risk.

On the cat question, I'd probably hand off that task. Bending over is going to be challenging soon, and after that, you'll have another small creature's waste to contend with. Congrats!
posted by judith at 9:19 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wore latex gloves and surgical masks when I had to clean the cat boxes. I figured better safe than sorry. If something did happen, I'd have known I did all I could reasonably do.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:22 AM on December 4, 2012

are you eating the cat poop? no? then you don't neeed to worry.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:43 AM on December 4, 2012

There has recently been a listeria outbreak associated with trader joes chicken products. Don't mess around with listeria if pregnant. I would worry about that more than I would your cats.
posted by pearlybob at 9:45 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Um, worries are not mutually exclusive, as demonstrated by much of the experience of pregnancy and parenthood!!!

Gloves, for sure. A partner, if available (even if not ordinarily primary cat caretaker) is even better. Not worth the risk.
posted by acm at 11:16 AM on December 4, 2012

As my ob said when I asked her about the deli meat thing, you have to consider your risk level and live according to it.

Based on my cat's background (she was front declawed when I adopted her so it's unlikely she's ever been outside and she's shown no hunting ability beyond pulling legs off camelback crickets), how long I've had her, having no one available to do it first trimester (which I think would have been the most important period) and my previous litterbox habits, I decided the risk was low and I wasn't going to stress over it. But I did do gloves for the first few months.

I'm actually more concerned about catching it through handling raw meat than the cat.
posted by bluesapphires at 5:40 PM on December 4, 2012

I did gloves for litter and meat.

Different gloves & not at the same time, of course.

Also pan-steamed lunchmeat.
posted by batmonkey at 9:04 PM on December 4, 2012

Also, most soft cheeses in the US are pasteurized, so you're fine there...

You know, a lot of people believe this, but according to the CDC records I linked above, most of the outbreaks in the Mexican cheeses were pasteurized. The ricotta cheese outbreak of 2012 that I mentioned above - also pasteurized.

Anyway, my point isn't "get scared about eating cheese" - my point is, listeria doesn't play by the rules, and avoiding major food groups will not necessarily protect you from it and isn't worth doing. A woman's gotta eat, but she doesn't have to clean the litterbox if there is another able bodied adult around who could be doing it...
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:38 PM on December 4, 2012

Partner has taken over the litter duties. Thanks for the responses.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:10 PM on December 11, 2012

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