Is Cat Litter Harmful for Pregnant Women
I do get asked many questions on this website. One of the most important questions I get asked is, “Is cat litter harmful for pregnant women?” In this article I will go into this in some detail as it is an important question and answer to understand.
Cat litter is potentially very harmful for pregnant women. In fact, cat litter is something that any lady who is pregnant, or even considering pregnancy should avoid handling at all costs. There are very good scientific and medical reasons for this which I will explain below.
I have completed a detailed article on the general health risks to humans from handling cat litter, which I would recommend reading. However in this article I am going to focus on cat litter and the potential harmful risks if handled during pregnancy.
For the purposes of clarity when I refer to cat litter in this article, I am referring to a cat litter that has been used by a cat. In other words soiled cat litter, and not just straight cat litter from out of the bag or box. The risk from unused cat litter does not exist, but it does exist when that cat or cats have used it as a toilet.
That is especially true when the skin comes into contact with the cat feces (poop).
Understanding Pregnancy and the Immune System
When a woman is pregnant the immune system runs at a lower rate, and that makes pregnant women more prone to picking up ailments of all kinds. This lower rate basically means the human immune system is weaker.
Now this is a complex area of medicine and too involved to discuss in detail on a website about cats. In addition to that I am certainly not a doctor, or an expert on medicinal treatments. However the main point to understand here is that, generally speaking the immune system is weaker during any pregnancy.
When that is the case then ladies do need to take extra care and avoid the risk of any health issues. These are risks such as where large groups of people are present. It is more likely to pick up an ailment where more people are present. A school is a typical example of where large groups of people meet as is a bus or train station.
Likewise in confined areas such as airplanes, where there are a lot of people, and any illness can be quickly spread by the cooling air conditioning system inside the cabin.
Where large groups of people meet, or in areas of confined and shared space, there is a greater likelihood of a virus or some type of illness to be present. With a reduced immune system, a pregnant woman is much more at risk of picking up that virus or illness.
In addition to these types of scenarios, there are also illnesses that are spread by contact. These include chickenpox, ringworm, cold sores etc. When a woman is pregnant, then they are even more prone to picking that illness up. What has that got to do with cat litter you may be thinking? Well let’s find out.
General Handling of Cat Litters
The bottom line with any cat litter is pretty obvious in terms of normal hygiene and our health. There is no polite way of saying this really. A cat litter is there so as your cat or cats can use it as a toilet. That means that there will be both cat urine and cat poop present in the litter.
Anywhere there is cat waste present, or any animal waste for that matter, the risk of picking up an illness from that is increased. Normal healthy human beings can easily pick up various illnesses if they touch cat waste, or even breathe in the dust and gases.
That exists for all of us. As a pregnant woman, with a reduced immune system, the risk is much higher.
If the cat litter box is not regularly cleaned, not only is it a poor environment for your cat, but the odors can build up fast, and can quickly cause a strong stench inside your home. When it comes to cleaning a cat litter for most people, that will mean getting close to it, scooping out clumps and poop and getting it into a bin.
It is not my favorite thing to do, but of course it is a necessity. You should always wash your hands after scooping out a cat litter box as a basic method of hygiene.
A pregnant woman should never undertake this task if that is humanly possible. The risk is simply too great not just for her, but also for her baby.
Pregnancy and Cat Litter Feces
The big risk and indeed the biggest concern for women is a disease known as Toxoplasmosis. There are still many doctors who strongly advise pregnant women to get rid of any cats in the home. This may sound extreme but what the doctors are advising is to eliminate the risk completely.
I understand that for some pregnant women that they will consider this an extreme tactic. The thoughts of losing their cat, or being without it, can simply lead to panic and grief over losing a beloved companion. The doctor though is simply offering the best advice and at the end of the day, the risk of Toxoplasmosis does go away if there is no cat in the home.
For those women who do not want to get rid of their cat, then there of course some sensible precautions that you will need to take. It is highly recommended that you put the basic safeguards in place to protect you, the family and the fetus from the risk of Toxoplasmosis.
It is worth noting that the risk of getting Toxoplasmosis from your pet cat is low, providing your cat lives indoors and doesn’t hunt or eat raw meat. If your cat roams outdoors, the risk becomes a great deal higher. That is because Toxoplasmosis is passed on through contact with something else that is infected. (Eating or hunting a bird, mouse or rat) The cat feces is what carries this danger, and it should never be touched by a pregnant woman.
Now in reality human beings are much more likely to get Toxoplasmosis from eating unwashed vegetables from your garden. That is because cats like to urinate and poop in soil. This is a much bigger risk, and it is the main reason that gardeners wear gloves, when working in vegetable gardens or flower beds.
Likewise eating uncooked or under cooked meat also holds a higher risk, and you have a bigger chance of catching Toxoplasmosis from doing that, than you have from your pet cat.
Toxoplasmosis Explained In Detail
Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii. The disease can quickly and easily be passed to people through any type of skin contact with cat feces in the cat litter box. As mentioned above this exposure is also possible through contact with cat feces in contaminated soil or through eating raw or under cooked meat.
Toxoplasmosis is a very rare disease. Some studies suggest that this happens in 1 out of 200 pregnancies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “An estimated 400-4,000 cases of congenital toxoplasmosis occur each year in the United States. Of the 750 deaths attributed to toxoplasmosis each year, 375 (50%) are believed to be caused by eating contaminated meat, making toxoplasmosis the third leading cause of food borne deaths in this country.”
The parasite is found in cat feces, unpasteurised goat’s milk, sheep, raw meat and under cooked meat.
The symptoms for most healthy adults will either be like a mild flu-like illness or they will show no symptoms at all. On the other hand when a pregnant woman becomes infected with Toxoplasmosis during the pregnancy, the fetus can become infected with Toxoplasmosis via the placenta. (known as congenital toxoplasmosis)
Hopefully that explains why some doctors recommend not having a cat in the home during any pregnancy.
If you get Toxoplasmosis for the first time when you’re pregnant or up to 3 months before you conceive, the infection can include birth defects, miscarriage and even stillbirth.
Here is a useful video that explains this really well.
Recommended Precautions for Pregnant Woman With Cats
- If possible try and keep the cat indoors
- Do not feed your cat any type of raw meat
- If at all possible a pregnant woman should not change the cat litter box and should have zero contact with any type of cat feces.
- If there is no other choice then the woman should wear gloves when doing this task, and also wear gloves if working with soil or sand as it may be contaminated by other neighborhood cats
- The litter box should be cleaned daily and washed out with hot water daily
- Avoid handling any cat
- Disposable rubber gloves should always be worn when cleaning a cat litter or when scooping and you should wash your hands on completion of this task
- Cover any type of garden sand box when not in use
- Pregnant woman should wash their hands before handling or eating any type of food
- Any food, fruit or vegetables brought in from the garden should be peeled and thoroughly washed before being prepared or eaten
- Cats should be fed only canned or dried commercial food or well-cooked table food, not raw or under cooked meats.