Pregnancy, litter trays and hygiene

One of the most common reasons people give for wanting to give up a pet cat or for deciding not to adopt in the first place is pregnancy/ pregnancy plans and the fear of being infected with toxoplasmosis from contaminated faeces. Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that isn’t serious for you, but can pose a danger to a developing baby.

The risk of contracting toxoplasmosis during pregnancy is low, and if you’ve had it once, you can’t catch it again. There is a blood test which can show whether you have had toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasmosis infection is caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite can be found in:

  • Undercooked or raw meat.
  • Raw cured meat, such as salami or parma ham.
  • Unpasteurized goats’ milk.
  • Cat faeces.
  • Soil or cat litter contaminated with infected cat faeces.
  • Sheep can also carry the toxoplasma parasite.

It’s rare for a woman to be infected for the first time during pregnancy, and some experts argue that you’re much more likely to catch it from eating raw, undercooked or cured meat than from your cat.

Other studies (including found that in pregnant women toxoplasmosis was usually caused by eating undercooked meat and cured meat. Less commonly, it was caused by contact with contaminated soil.

 It is already known that Toxoplasma is common in people (for example around 80% of people in France and Germany and up to around 33% of Britons have been infected at some point in their lives) but it’s important to note that serious effects are extremely rare. 

Wear gloves when you’re gardening and handling soil or sand to cut down the risk of infection from cat and animal faeces.  Always wash your hands before preparing or handling food, and be very strict about food hygiene.

In the UK, the national cat charity Cats Protection says: “Cats Protection would like to point out that statistically a cat owner is no more or less likely to contract Toxoplasma gondii than a non-cat owner.”

While cats are the definitive host for Toxoplasma gondii, research has shown that contact with cats is not a risk factor for infection and even vets are no more likely to be infected with the parasite than non-vets. 

To reduce the risk of infection which is especially important for those in higher risk groups, both cat owners and non-cat owners can take sensible precautions, such as practising good food hygiene, wearing gloves when gardening and cleaning out litter trays.

Cats Protection in the UK is “extremely concerned that putting the emphasis on felines may discourage people from adopting a cat or encourage cat owners to unnecessarily give up their pets. Let us also not forget the many benefits and enrichment that cats bring to the lives of their owners.”

Beth Skillings, Clinical Veterinary Office for Cats Protection.

The risk of getting toxoplasmosis when you are pregnant is very low. One study suggests that, in the UK, about three in every 100,000 babies are born with congenital  (present from birth) toxoplasmosis. 

Expecting a baby—will the cat be a problem ?

The answer is No! But sadly, many people decide that they don’t want to keep their cat when a human baby comes along. Thousands of cats end up in rescue centers for this reason every year, and we ourselves have experienced this concern.

Many new parents worry about how their pets and a new baby will get along, and for the vast majority of people and cats there really isn’t an issue.

A new baby is a time of major change, but don’t forget your cat – make an effort to give your cat some extra attention and let them see your new baby. Your cat is a member of the family too and wants to know what’s happening as well, rather than finding themselves excluded from the room every time the baby is there. 

Occasionally cats get very upset and unhappy when a baby arrives – it is a time of change for the cat and the new parents. It is important to acknowledge that the cat may feel unsettled and to give them a bit of extra attention, but most cats adjust to the new arrival very quickly.

The cat soon realizes that although a newborn is not mobile and cannot pursue it.

From a safety point of view the only requirement is not to allow the cat unattended access into the room where the baby is sleeping or leave the baby and cat unattended together. Using a baby monitor in the room where a baby is sleeping allows the baby to be heard even if the door is closed to keep a cat out.

It is generally accepted and studies have shown that it is good for children to grow up with pets and to learn how to treat and respect them; some studies have shown that a first child who grows up with a cat and learns how to treat the cat kindly will then be gentler towards a sibling should one come along.

Sadly many cats are given up by owners who are concerned about possible risks of a cat hurting a baby or hygiene risks and then regret it, and two years later seek to take on another cat – at which time it is much harder to introduce a cat or kitten into a home with a curious and excited toddler.

We are aware that the advice given by individual health professionals varies greatly and often is based on their own values.

Occasionally a cat doesn’t adjust well to a new baby and becomes very unhappy – even showing signs of distress such as urinating in the wrong places. Don’t be in a hurry to give up, but if he or she does not settle down after a reasonable time (at least a few weeks) then in such an instance it may be fairer on your cat to seek a new home.

Children and cats

Children who grow up with pets whom they learn to treat with kindness and respect can have enormous fun.   As a parent, you should censure that your children do treat pets kindly; 

Babies and toddlers should be supervised at all times when near cats.  Toddlers can be very uncoordinated and sometimes do not know their own strength.

A cat that its tail pulled or is manhandled by a toddler or young child could bite or scratch. A very young kitten could be squashed by a toddler learning to walk. 

It’s best to think about having an area where your cat(s) can get away from young children –  for example, using a stair gate to limit access. 

It’s also important the cat litter tray is kept in a location separate from very young children – after all, it’s not a sandbox for your toddlers to play in !  Furthermore, it may well be sensible to try to train your cat to use a covered litter tray if you have toddlers.  Most cats use them without a problem. 

It’s also helpful to ensure that the cat has a place to sit which is out of reach and the safe space within your home. 

For those lucky enough to have a SECURE outside space, a cat flap can also provide a cat with the freedom to come and go as he or she chooses.