Toxoplasmosis In Cats: I’m Pregnant, Do I Really Need To Rehome My Cat?

Excitement is brewing, you’ve just found out that you and your partner are pregnant!

Like all expectant parents, you hop on the internet and the first thing you come across is some article telling you to get rid of your cat!

You ask your GP and your midwife. They tell you the same thing.

Why? Because cats carry toxoplasma and toxoplasmosis in cats can harm your baby.  How true is this statement? Are we worrying unnecessarily?


What Is Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is caused by a small parasite protozoan called Toxoplasma gondii.  It is one of the most common parasitic zoonoses worldwide. Cats are the definitive host, meaning that cats are required for Toxoplasma gondii to reproduce.

Toxoplasma cysts are often present in undercooked meat especially kangaroo, venison, lamb and pork.

Oocytes (eggs) can be found in contaminated water and in rare circumstances, cysts can be transmitted via a blood transfusion or a transplanted organ.

Toxoplasma oocytes are found in cat faeces.

However, when outbreaks have occurred, water and undercooked meat have been the culprits.

 Toxoplasmosis In Cats – How Are Cats Infected?

Cats become infected with Toxoplasma by eating meat that contains tissue cysts.

In outdoor cats the meat source is usually a mouse or bird, but these days with many owners feeding raw diets, the cysts could be found in any raw meat.

Cats usually don’t show any symptoms of infection.Lifecycle-of-toxoplasmosis-in-cats

When the parasite is eaten, it moves to the small intestine where it multiplies and reproduces. The cat then sheds more than 100 million oocysts (eggs) in its faeces over a period of 2-3 weeks.

The oocysts in faeces contaminate grass, vegetables and water where the infected cat has defecated.

When other animals eat this contaminated produce or water they too become infected. These animals then become part of the life cycle of the parasite, developing tissue cysts in their body.

If these animals are eaten, this can infect the next animal, so the cycle of infection continues.

If the animal or person who ingests the cysts is pregnant, the organism can then affect the developing foetus.

This is when things get scary.

Toxoplasmosis in pregnancy can be deadly leading to stillbirth or miscarriage or cause serious birth defects or problems after the baby is born (congenital toxoplasmosis).

What Is The Incidence Of Congenital Toxoplasmosis?

Incidence varies depending on the development level of a country.

Developed countries have a declining seroprevalence (people are less infected) whereas some developing countries have either a stable or increased seroprevalence.

Conditions such as water sanitation, meat hygiene and government health policies can impact toxoplasma seroprevalence as much as health standards of individuals.

The incidence of congenital toxoplasmosis is quite country specific.

In the UK incidence is very low 0.34 per 10,000 live births, while USA and Europe range between 1-2.9 per 10,000 live births and up to 9 per 10,000 live births in countries such as Brazil.

Australia has an incidence of around 0.17 per 10,000 live births.

Do I Have To Rehome Our Cat When I Get Pregnant?

The vast majority of people infected by toxoplasmosis are not infected directly from a cat.

Most infections are caused by ingesting tissue cysts from infected meat and from accidental ingestion of contaminated soil either while gardening or from unwashed vegetables.

It is extremely unlikely that you could get infected with toxoplasmosis from contact with a cat.

Indoor cats fed a biscuit or tinned commercial food are at low risk of having Toxoplasmosis.

Feeding your cat raw meat does increase the risk.

Outdoor cats who hunt are more likely to possibly have toxoplasmosis. Again, the risk of transmission via your cat is low.

Prevention Of Toxoplasmosis

If you are pregnant you can have a blood test to see if you have previously been infected with toxoplasmosis. Many people who have been infected with the organism do not become unwell but will have a positive antibody test.

Toxoplasmosis in cats is not as common today as it was in the past.

With a little care and attention with food and water hygiene, your risks of getting this disease is low.  Keeping your cat indoors and feeding cooked meat or a commercial diet will go a long way in lowering your risk.


Avoid Infection By Taking The Following Precautions

Wear disposable gloves when handling raw meat and wash your hands well afterwards.
Wash all utensils that are used to handle raw meat.
Freeze meat for 10-14 days at -18 degrees.
Only eat well-cooked meat, be especially careful when consuming kangaroo and lamb.
Wash all fresh produce before you eat it.
Wear gloves when gardening and when handling root vegetables. Always wash your hands well after preparing vegetables, especially root vegetables.
Do not drink unpasteurised milk.
Change cat litter daily and wash litter trays in hot (>70 degree) soapy water. Litter should be changed by another household member if you are pregnant, or wear gloves.
Preferably keep your cat indoors to discourage hunting.
Feed cats commercial food only – this does not include packaged food that includes raw pet meat. If you want to feed your pet a raw diet make sure you freeze any meat for 14 days or only feed them cooked meat.

Have you ever been told to rehome your cat by a medical professional?  Tell us your story in the comments below. 

Written by Sandra Bellamy BVSc(Hons) MPH & Dr Leigh Davidson BVSc, BApplSc

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