Cat litter can carry parasites dangerous to pregnant women, Maine doctors warn

A litter of 8-week-old kittens were among more than 250 cats in the care of the Bangor Humane Society in August 2011.
Kate Collins | BDN
A litter of 8-week-old kittens were among more than 250 cats in the care of the Bangor Humane Society in August 2011. Buy Photo
Posted May 22, 2014, at 10:52 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Some cat owners may want to think twice about changing their cats’ litter boxes or have someone else do it.

Doctors say the litter can house parasites that can be harmful, especially for pregnant women.

“You just have the dirt, the bacteria that comes with urination and defecation and then on top of that, some of these things are toxic,” said Dr. Bennett Wilson of Forest Avenue Veterinary Hospital.

It’s called Toxoplasma gondii. Wilson says the parasites are common in cats and left in their waste.

“They go through their digestive system, go out the back end and end up in their litter box,” said Wilson.

Doctors say the parasites can be harmful to pregnant women.

“First a woman ingests the cyst, the cyst becomes a next-phase mobile organism that then goes into the bloodstream and can pass across the placenta into the baby,” said OB/GYN and physician Dr. Anne Rainville.

Rainville said that while the risk for the parasite’s transmission to the baby is low, it should be avoided. She said the consequences include irreversible brain damage and blindness to the baby.

In addition to cats’ litter, Toxoplasma gondii can also be found in uncooked meats and raw vegetables.

Rainville said pregnant women should always stay away from raw meat, wash vegetables well and have someone else clean the litter box to avoid risks.

Wilson said cats can carry the parasite even if they seem healthy. He recommends cat owners bring a fecal test into their local veterinarian’s office to see if their cats carry the parasite.

 

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