Preventing Toxoplasmosis through Litter Box Management

Proper litter box management can help protect a pregnant woman from contracting toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can cause miscarriages, birth defects and other pregnancy complications.

How People Contract Toxoplasmosis

The most common way a person contracts toxoplasmosis is by eating raw or undercooked meat. Unpasteurized milk, fresh vegetables that have been grown in contaminated soil and raw eggs have also been implicated in the transmission of the disease.

Pet cats can carry toxoplasmosis, and the parasite can be shed in their feces. Pet cats that hunt rodents or that eat raw meat are far more likely to contract toxoplasmosis than an indoor-only cat that’s fed a balanced wet or dry commercial diet.

Because of the connection between cats and toxoplasmosis, it’s long been suggested that pregnant women either get rid of their cats or banish them to the outdoors to protect the health of both mother and child. A few common-sense precautions can help keep your cat in your home while still keeping you and your unborn child healthy.

Find Another Litter Box Cleaner

Although the chances of contracting toxoplasmosis from your cat are low, you probably will want to delegate the litter box cleaning duties to another adult family member until after your baby is born.

If delegating the chore isn’t possible, make sure to wear gloves and a dust mask (the parasite can sometimes become airborne) and wash your hands thoroughly after you’ve cleaned out the litter box.

When cleaning the litter box each week, wash it in hot water and detergent, then fill it with boiling water and let stand 5 minutes to ensure any cysts containing the parasite are eliminated.

Consider a self-cleaning litter box. These boxes automatically rake through the litter, removing solid wastes, after a cat has gone to the bathroom. The solid-waste collection receptacle will still need to be checked and emptied as needed.

Daily Cleaning Is Vital

Regardless of who’s cleaning the litterbox, it must be sifted and scooped daily to remove feces. The parasite Toxoplasma gondii does not pose a health threat until one to five days after it is shed in a cat’s feces.

Cover the Sandbox

If your children have an outdoor sandbox, make sure it’s covered when it’s not in use to discourage neighborhood cats (some of which may have toxoplasmosis) from going to the bathroom in the sandbox.

Keep Your Cat Indoors

If your cat isn’t already an indoor-only pet, now is the perfect time to begin converting her. Although some cats yearn for the great outdoors, keeping your cat inside helps protect her from parasites, animal attacks, car accidents, fights with other cats and other health hazards.

Other Precautions to Take

In addition to avoiding cat feces and litter boxes, pregnant women should wear gloves while gardening and wash their hands thoroughly afterward. They should also scrub and peel raw vegetables prior to eating them.