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Pregnancy and Litter Boxes: Why Pregnant Women Should NOT Clean Litter Boxes

Posted in: Cat Health - Last Updated: February 20, 2023 - Author: Dexter Jones
Posted in Cat Health 
Last Updated: February 8, 2023  
Author:  Dexter Jones

Being pregnant is certainly one of the most amazing things this life can have in store for you. The idea of bringing a new life into this world is something that really can't be praised more highly enough. 

pregnancy and litter boxes

However, while it is an incredible thing, it's also got a lot of limitations - namely in what you can and can't do. Whether it's eating meat, drinking caffeine, smoking or drinking, or taking certain medications, there are a lot of things you're not allowed to do for the sake of the baby.

And as it turns out, cleaning your pet's litter box is one of them. While it may sound a bit odd, pregnant women should ideally stay away from their kitty's litter pan if at all possible. 

Why? Well, it's pretty simple. Cat feces, while smelly, can also be extremely dangerous for women that are expecting. In this overview, we'll touch on why cat feces and the parasite Toxoplasma gondii are so dangerous, what that means for you and your cat, as well as some useful tips you can do to keep yourself safe until the baby arrives.

Pregnancy and Litter Boxes

First Things First, Do I Have To Give Up My Cat???

Ok, let's tackle the elephant in the room first. No, there's nothing about cat feces that is so dangerous that you have to send your kitty off to Nanna's for the year. Yes, there are some things you'll need to be careful of, but even if you're the only person in the house, and you have to handle their used cat litter, there are still some different things you can do to keep yourself as safe as possible while greatly reducing the potential risk.

Now that we've cleared that up, let's talk about why we're even having this conversation in the first place.

Ok, So What's So Dangerous About Cat Feces Anyway? 

As with most other forms of feces, cat feces is certainly not the healthiest thing to be around. However, one thing that is unique to your cat's dropping is that there is something known as toxoplasmosis.

This is a parasitic infection that can pass from cats to humans primarily through feces. This infection can then transfer itself from you to your unborn child.

Now, not all cats carry this toxoplasmosis parasite, however, it's a fairly easy parasite for them to come into contact with.

For example, if your cat consumes the feces of another cat that had the parasite, it will get it. Similarly, if your cat eats any meat from an animal that had the parasite it will pass to the cat.

Symptoms Of Toxoplasmosis 

Of course, that's only the tip of the iceberg, and why this is so dangerous for pregnant women. If an average adult contracts a toxoplasmosis infection, very little may happen outside of some flu-like symptoms (headache, tiredness, nose swelling, etc.). 

For unborn children, however, the results are nowhere near as positive. 

For unborn babies that get the parasite, especially within the first trimester, there are a lot of issues that can happen, namely the child has an increased chance of suffering some type of birth defect (eye issues or even brain issues).

But about 1 in 10 babies with the Toxoplasmis infection are born with problems. These include:

  • Eye infections
  • Swollen liver
  • Spleen Jaundice (when a baby's eyes and skin look yellow.)
  • Seizures or convulsions Fluid on the brain (hydrocephalus)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Feeding problems
  • Skin rash or bruising of the muscles

Without treatment, newborns may develop problems later in life,

Can You Cure Toxoplasmosis? 

Well, there's good and bad news here. The good news is that, if you've contracted the parasitic infection, you can indeed have it treated with antibiotics. 

However, if you have contracted it and are pregnant, you're going to have considerably more scrutiny and monitoring than before, with medical professionals looking you over until the baby arrives.

Another thing worth mentioning is the fact that, once you've been infected by the parasite, you're effectively immune. And while this won't be much help for your current child, if you've dealt with this in the past (before getting pregnant) your baby will have some of that additional protection as well.

Why Pregnant Women Should NOT Clean Litter Boxes

What To Do If No One Else Can Clean The Litter Box

Now that we know that, while dangerous, you don't necessarily need to sell your cat, there's still the elephant in the room and that's what to do if you can't reliably get someone else to clean the litter box.

If you're on your own, or in a house full of infants and toddlers, odds are great you're probably going to need to clean out the litter pan at least now and again.

So if that's true, here are some useful tips to lower exposure and to keep yourself as safe as possible throughout the entire parasitic poo ordeal.

Let's talk prevention:

1. Wear Gloves

The first thing you want to do is make sure you're wearing a good pair of disposable gloves whenever going in and dealing with your cat's litter. Not only should you be wearing these gloves, but the gloves should specifically be disposable. Disposable gloves are one-use by nature and are immediately thrown in the trash afterward. 

Washable gloves are a problem since there's a chance you may not wash them after you're finished or may not wash them well enough before putting them near other things, like clean dishes or other kitchen household items.

Disposable is just safer all around.

This is also true for any work you may do outside, such as tending to the garden or handling soil. That's because outdoor cats are known for turning soil into makeshift litter boxes and doing their business there.

Even after you've used and discarded your gloves, you want to make sure you spend a few minutes washing your hands under warm water with soap just in case of a tear or any contact during the removal process.

2. Try To Raise Them Outdoors

This may seem a bit counter-intuitive but the logic is sound. Provided the weather and climate conditions are ok, you want to ideally let your cat spend most of their time outside. 

While this has a plethora of health benefits for the cat, the one worth talking about here is the fact that your cat isn't using the litter box to handle their business. 

In most cases, your cat is going to handle their stuff outside far away from the house. This naturally means you're going to be as far from the litter tray issue as possible.

3. Don't Get A New Cat While Pregnant

I know we said you don't have to give your cat away while pregnant but that (obviously) doesn't mean there's not a risk. Cat feces is a risk regardless of who the cat is. This risk is pretty much doubled or tripled when bringing an entirely unknown cat into the mix.

Simply put, unless the cat is a newborn kitten, you should just stick with the cats you already have, at least until you have the kid.

pregnancy and cleaning litter boxes

Read this next: Best Cheap Litter Box

4. Only Feed Your Cat Canned Or Dry Cat Food

You don't want to feed your cat any undercooked meat of any kind. Remember that there are two ways that this parasite can pass into cats. The first being  them eating the feces of another cat and the second by eating meat that has been previously infected by the toxoplasma parasite. 

Meat that hasn't been fully cooked (fully browned on the inside with no pink) may run the risk of having toxoplasma on it.

5. Clean Litter Box Daily

If you have a large number of cats at home, this is a no-brainer even if your using a litter that is for multiple cats. However, if you've got only one or two cats, it may be tempting to let it slip by every couple of days. 

This is a mistake. Toxoplasma parasites can live in cat feces for one to five days before becoming infectious. In that case, letting it sit for a day or two could be just the time it needs before it can actually begin giving you a problem. Don't wait. Just handle it and wash your hands.

6. Use Plenty of Soapy Water

To increase disease control, make sure that you change the cat litter every day and the cat litter tray is thoroughly cleaned with hot soapy water and disinfectant to prevent any parasites from becoming infectious - which they do after 24 hours. 

If you’ve handled a cat, especially stray cats, make sure you give your hands a thorough wash afterward and also try to avoid any cats that are unwell. 

Be alert even if you don’t have a cat If you enjoy gardening.

Cats use gardens as kitty sandboxes so you should also wear gloves just in case the soil has cat feces in it. Ensure you wash your hands and clean your gardening gloves and utensils afterward.

litter boxes and pregnancy

Pregnancy and Litter Boxes: Summary

As a pregnant woman, the idea of contracting toxoplasmosis because of cat litter can be very scary, especially because of what it can do to the immune system of yourself and your unborn child. If there is any other person that can handle your cat's litter issues, it's much safer for you to let them handle it. 

If you can't, then fair enough, but you want to make sure you're following the earlier steps, if only for your unborn baby's safety.

While this is a very serious situation, there are solutions. By taking the steps listed above, you can greatly reduce your risk so that you have a happy and healthy baby.

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About the author

Dexter Jones has been a solid member of the ‘Mad Cat Dad’ club since time began! Dexter has been a keen cat writer for many years and lives in Croatia. He lives with his two tabby cats, Milly & Marly, who also flew in from the UK to start their new Adriatic island life together.