Are Cats and Their Litter Boxes Dangerous to Pregnant Women?

How to have a healthy pregnancy with fur-babies in your home.

Pregnancy & Cats

Do you have fur-babies?

Are you pregnant and wondering what you need to know about cats?

I remember looking at my two kitties when I got pregnant and feeling concerned about how they might adapt and what I needed to do differently to avoid getting sick.

Read on for all the info you need on safety, cat behavior, and how best to introduce your bundle of joy to your other bundle of joy.

Cat Litter – You’ve Heard The Rumors

At some point all expecting mothers WILL be told (I’m sure with the best of intentions), that they can’t change the litter. Reasons vary from imminent death, to hygiene concerns and everything in between.

Let’s be honest ladies: we don’t all have the luxury of avoiding the litter box anymore. Case in point – my husband works nights 50% of the time and is never home. Do I want to live in a house that smells of pee and poop for half the month? Nope.

Here’s some scientific information about the risks to help you decide the best approach:

  • Toxoplasmosis – what is it? An infection caused by bacteria that CAN be present in cat poop (it’s not always there). The bacteria comes from eating small mice or other animals, or raw meat. Read here for more detailed information.
  • Will I catch it from changing litter? – If your cats are exposed to the above then it’s certainly possible you could pick up the bacteria while changing the litter.
  • Precautions – Wearing gloves and mask are front line precautions you can take to physically block bacteria from touching your skin or being inhaled. Cleaning hands and arms with soap and warm water after changing litter will remove any bacteria that did touch you. MedicineNet has these recommendations.
  • Cleaning Daily – Toxoplasmosis bacteria only becomes infectious a few days after the cat has pooped, so daily cleaning will reduce the risk of the bacteria even being present.

In short, it’s always best to have someone else change the litter if you can. But if you can’t, you don’t have to give away your cat just yet.

Talking to your doctor is also recommended as they can order a blood test to see if you are already immune – WebMD has some good information about this.

Cat Behavior – What Will They Think of the Baby?

You may consider your feline friend to be your first “baby” if you are newly expecting. It’s perfectly normal for momma to worry that when her human baby is born, her furry baby is going to feel sad and pushed out.

Let’s look at some studies done on cat behaviour to consider the kitty point of view.

  • You’re Their Mommy – Dr. John Bradshaw, Director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol, says cats consider us to be bigger, more upright versions of their birth mothers. If this is true,  adding another sibling to the litter isn’t necessarily too much of a traumatic event as long as they understand that’s what the newcomer is – just another brother or sister that mommy looks after.  His book is available on Amazon.com.
  • Do cats get jealous of babies? – Randi Benlulu of PetHelpful says yes. Although cats may seem aloof, they do get jealous of other animals and humans, even other objects. But they usually tell you how they feel by exhibiting certain behaviours like being loud, or ignoring you, or having accidents inside the house.
  • Will they be scared? – Yes, cats can be scared by loud noises, weird smells, and additional equipment that comes with a new baby. Makes sense, right?
  • Could they run away from home? – If you have an outdoor cat then the above may mean they choose to spend more time outside, but whether or not they could leave altogether depends on the cat. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on, but I wouldn’t personally recommend keeping a cat indoors if they are used to being outside.

What Can I Do Before Baby Arrives?

Here are some common sense suggestions from The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®) to make sure your cat doesn’t feel jealous and scared, that will hopefully make for a harmonious home when you bring in your new arrival:

  • Play some baby noises in the house from time to time, before the baby gets there
  • Give the kitty some fuss while you have baby lotion or powder on your hands, so they recognize the smell and associate it with happy times
  • Bring in baby furniture ahead of time and let them get used to it
  • Set up boundaries well in advance in terms of where they are and are not allowed to go and sleep
  • Use tin foil, balloons or other materials to make no-go zones unpleasant – crib, bassinet, change table etc.
  • Gradually move the litter box as far away as possible from the nursery
  • Make any changes to the cat care routine well in advance of baby arriving – feeding, grooming, petting

Baby Is Home – What Now?

You have successfully made it through pregnancy and birth and hopefully your fur baby is somewhat setup for the arrival. How can you make sure they become friends and not enemies, with minimum stress for you and family members?

Introductions are key.

Make sure you take a few minutes to go into a quiet room with your kitty when you get home to say hi and pet them, alone and without noises, distractions and other people. Then once the cat is comfortable, bring other family members in slowly with minimum noise and confusion.

Provide some positive reinforcement in the form of treats and petting.

Let the cat smell baby without actually meeting baby – blankets, clothes, toys that were used in the hospital. Then bring the baby along calmly and slowly and place them near each other while you watch to see what happens.

Your cat might run away at first, they might even hiss or seem displeased. But with time and the right kind of introduction they can co-exist in the same house, and you and your family can work on developing a bond under safe supervision at all times.

Here is some more in depth information from The Humane Society of The United States.

Safety Concerns

The final thing to remember when baby is home and you are hopefully working as a family to ensure the kitty and the child are both being taken care of, is safety. There are some safety concerns to be mindful of, but don’t listen to every wives tale and myth you hear. Just make sure you always supervise and never leave the cat alone with the baby.

  • SIDS – When sleeping, your baby needs to be in an area free from objects that he or she could roll onto and suffocate. Examples are blankets, toys, and also cats. This means making sure your kitty can never climb into the warm crib and take a nap. Keep the door closed while baby is sleeping and make sure the cat is not in the room before dozing off. Consider a net over the sleeping area if this is not possible. Baby Center has this expert advice on SIDS and keeping baby safe while sleeping.
  • Claws – If your cat has intact claws then be mindful that they could accidentally scratch the baby while playing or climbing. Be sure to stop the cat from walking on or over the top of the baby and encourage play time while the baby is sleeping in an area away from the swipe zone.
  • Hygiene – Cats typically don’t carry toxoplasmosis for more than a few weeks after they come into contact with the bacteria. If your cat goes outside, then this is an ongoing risk, so you need to be sure that they are not licking the baby or transferring bacteria. If the cat is indoor there is less risk, but you still need to be sure the cat doesn’t develop a habit of licking because there are many other harmful bacteria in their mouths and babies have no immunity.
  • Health – Regular de-flea and de-worming treatments are also important to make sure there are no parasites in the house.

I personally think the main thing to remember is that every cat, household, and baby are different, so there is no magic solution or catch-all approach!

Most important is that the cat receives the same amount of affection and care as always and the baby grows up with a respect for kitty that will foster a safe and loving relationship.

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