Veterinary Advice To Expectant Parents [Of Human Children] Part 1: Keep the Cat
Stats show that new parents of human babies are getting older in our country. That’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. It usually means they’re better educated, have more resources and are generally better equipped to handle the stress and angst that often comes with having children.
But [IMO] some new parents have also taken things a little too far in recent years. The evolving paradigm has been that cleaner households make for cleaner, healthier babies. And we all know new parents who have taken to wearing surgical masks and sterilizing everything their baby touches. It’s no wonder they’ve even started taking special precautions regarding their pets.
The number of pre-pregnancy and pre-natal appointments is way up in my hospital—and I refer here to my human mother clients. Expectant parents arrive for their pets’ appointment, ClearBlue Easy positive in hand, with a checklist of questions about handling the dog and managing the cat through this critical period in their baby’s development.
In this first installment of “Veterinary advice to expectant parents" I’ll tackle the issue of the cat, traditional harbingers of all evil in households where newborns reside.
It’s not unusual for me to see a client like yesteday’s: a tearful woman in her first trimester whose husband has demanded the cat find a new home now that she carries his child. In the husband’s defense, the suggestion wasn’t his (though I suspect he wasn’t shedding any tears). It was the OB/Gyn’s.
It’s not uncommon for OB/Gyns to inform their patients in early pregnancy that cats may prove problematic and that finding them a new home might be best for all concerned. So clients book the first appointment they can to learn all about the dreaded toxoplasmosis infection their cat is scheming to inflict on their unsuspecting fetus.
Unfortunately, the same OB/Gyn that deemed the cat a no-no failed to mention that toxoplasmosis is more easily transmitted to a pregnant mother and her fetus by eating undercooked meats or while gardening than by handling her cat’s stool with bare hands (not something I’d recommend anyway).
Indoor housecats are very rarely a potential source of toxoplasmosis infections. Even indoor/outdoor cats are considered an uncommon vector. That’s because the cat itself is not the issue. It’s the cat’s stool. In fact, all toxoplasmosis infections can be prevented entirely simply by scooping the cat’s litter daily (the infectious form of toxoplasmosis needs at least 24 hours out in the real world before it can do any damage to anyone).
Here I will insert a memorable anecdote: In vet school one of our pregnant classmates in our fourth year had spent her first month in small animal clinical rotations refusing to take on any feline cases due to her delicate condition (earning herself much scorn and general ill-will in the process). Finally, the clinical director had had enough. In front of a group of us students entering the small animal internal medicine service he picked up a cat and handed it to her saying, “You will hold this cat. You will handle cats. You will not let your ass-backward thinking prevent you from treating cats in my rotation.” And that was the end of that. If anyone knows toxoplasmosis, it’s the department chair of internal medicine. So no one ever tried that again…at least not in my year.
Because I am not licensed to give any information beyond what the zoonotic (cross-species) potential for infection might be, I always tell people to speak to a human healthcare provider about their specific situation. I mention the possibility of testing their cat to see if he or she already carries antibodies against the disease (making transmission a moot issue) or testing themselves (many of us already have these antibodies from our young sandbox days).
Next, I provide online resources to check (because I know that not all healthcare providers are created equal and perhaps they might choose to change their provider if Harvard or the Mayo Clinic has a totally different take on toxo than their current clinician). BTW, here's a great fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on household cats and toxoplasmosis.
After the exhausting toxoplasmosis discussion (if I’ve successfully talked the client down from the ledge) I launch into my explanation of allergies and asthma (always a consideration though not reportedly in the first couple of years of a child’s life). I dwell on the infectious nature of roundworms in children who play with cat stool. Occasionally, I will also be forced to dispel the fairy-tale rumors of cats sucking the life out of sleeping infants (the oldest old wives tale in history). For the record: there is no reported connection between SIDS and cats.
By now I’ve calmed down the whole family and everyone is ready to go home and live in peace with renewed comfort in their kitty’s presence.
After that I collect my exam fee and wonder at how little I make—especially when I consider that my own therapist gets $135 for an equivalent session.
Image: Aynur_sib / Shutterstock