Q: We recently moved from an apartment to a house with a backyard. My two cats (two year old male and one year old female - both 'fixed') made the transition ok (the female was scared for awhile, but the male seemed excited/happy). Now that it's getting sunny, we've been letting them explore the backyard a bit, but don't want them to stay outdoors (I am pregnant, and would feel safer keeping them away from other cats and 'diseases' until after the baby is born). do you have any suggestions on the indoor/outdoor situation? (ie. should we keep them inside only until the baby's born?) Thank you for all the help, RL
A: The most serious problem during pregnancy that involves cats is an infection with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy acquired by contact with the stool from an infected cat. The risk to the baby increases the later in the pregnancy the new infection is acquired. Since cats are normally infected when they hunt and catch small rodents, it is less likely that one would be infected if it is an inside cat. In addition, the most common site for humans to come into contact with the cat's stools outside is probably in the garden -- cats like to bury their bowel movements in the soft soil in the garden. So keeping the cats in reduces the chance of accidentally coming in contact with cat feces. So I vote for keeping the cats indoors and having your husband do the litterpan cleaning until after the baby is born. Wear gloves while gardening. Be very careful not to eat undercooked meat (a more common route for infection) and wear gloves or carefully wash your hands after handling raw meat.
Michael Richards, DVM
Q: Dr.Mike, I have a question on toxopamosis, I was helping a friend clean out her horses stalls today and my sunglasses fell in the stall with the shavings. Is there any risk here? The stable has cats but would they use a stall with horse manure and urine as a litter box. I happened to put the bow of my sunglasses in my mouth to hang onto to them.
A: S - I think the risk of toxoplasmosis in the situation you describe is very very minimal. Since most people clean the shavings pretty regularly it is unlikely that effective contamination of the stall would occur even if a cat shedding toxoplasmosis did defecate in it.
Q: My wife is three months pregnant and we have three cats in a small, two bedroom apartment. Recently a friend of ours told us quite definitively that, "Only a fool would have cats in the same household as an infant. There are many nasty diseases that cats can transfer to babies". All our cats are indoor cats and always have been. Please advise on the hazards of three cats in the same household as a newborn baby. Thank You, Joe
A: Joe- There are two situations -- having cats when your wife is pregnant and having them after the baby is born.
Toxoplasmosis is a disease that can be transmitted from cats to humans (although other infection routes such as undercooked meat are much more frequent). If a pregnant woman is infected with this parasite for the first time during a pregnancy the effect on the baby can be severe. Your wife should not handle the litterpan during the pregnancy and should wash her hands after handling your cat. Toxoplasmosis is much more likely to occur in outdoor cats as it is transmitted to the cat through hunting of small animals.
There are conditions cats can have which are transmissible to infants or even older humans under some circumstances. Ringworm, a fungal infection, is one example of a zoonotic (transmissible to people) disease that affects cats. Toxocara infestation (roundworm infection) is another. The best way to avoid this is to have your vet check your cat's stool for roundworms and treat if they are present. In some cases it is just easier to go ahead and treat for these worms -- such as very young cats. Allergies to cats can occur but it seems more reasonable to wait and see if that is a problem than to get rid of the cats on the off chance that might occur. There is no evidence to support old wive's tales about cats "sucking the breath" from infants but it is a good idea to keep cats from sleeping with an infant. They will sometimes choose to sleep on the infant and that may lead to problems. In addition, children should never be left alone with a cat because either one could be hurt if the child grabs the cat too hard or engages in some activity the cat finds threatening and chooses to retaliate against. Finally, keep your cat's rabies vaccination up to date. This is an unlikely problem in an indoor cat but it is a terrible disease and it is best to be cautious -- and it is also the law in most places now.
There are risks associated with everything. I don't think of the risk of owning a cat and having an infant in the household as especially high. I didn't get rid of my cats when my children were born.
Michael Richards, DVMLast edited 04/20/04
Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...