How to manage your pregnancy AND live well with pets (Part 1)

Patty Khuly, DVM
Updated: September 09, 2010
Published: January 29, 2009
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OK, so you’re pregnant. Congratulations! And now your OB/Gyn has issued a list of concerns. Among them you might read a line-item or two on your appropriate interaction with pets. Some human docs may even suggest you adopt drastic measures to reduce your exposure to them, given that they may carry diseases harmful to your fetus. 

The wording under one local OB/Gyn’s “Pets and Your Pregnancy” heading on his practice’s handout?

“We love our pets. But we should always be mindful of the risks we take when we include them in our households. The success of your pregnancy is uppermost in our minds when we urge you to minimize contact with your pets and keep your cats out of doors during this critical period of time.”

Never seen anything quite like this. Have you? 

Well, maybe you have. And perhaps that’s how you wandered over to this blog. 

As veterinarian and a woman who’s endured her nine months successfully with pets at home and at work, here’s a ten-point rejoinder to this physician’s take on the age-old question of pets and pregnancy:

1. Training

Human physicians are trained to handle human issues. Veterinarians are schooled in a variety of species. Ironically, perhaps, the basic training of every veterinarian is much more specific to zoonotic diseases (those which may be transmitted from animals to humans) than any average med school grad’s. 

Sure, an OB/Gyn has received extra schooling in the ways in which pet-specific infectious diseases can steer a pregnancy wrong, but almost any veterinarian is far better informed on the incidence, transmission and prevention of these diseases than your OB/Gyn.

2. Responsibility

Yet it’s your OB/Gyn who is responsible for your fetus’s medical care--not your veterinarian. That’s why veterinarians will make recommendations about staying safe around your pets and the possibility of disease transmission...but we will never pretend to assume their role. We’ll always defer to their advice, while treading a fine line in our disagreements by referring you to more official sources of information (the CDC is an excellent resource). 

3. Possibilities vs. probabilities

Human docs sometimes make recommendations based on possibilities rather than on probabilities. “It’s better to be safe than sorry,” they’d argue. And I don’t blame them--nor should you. If it’s even remotely possible for you to contract a fetus-threatening disease from your dog or cat, their responsibility is to appropriately inform you of your risks. 

4. Liability

Moreover, if you’re not warned--and in writing--they may feel they’re setting themselves up for a lawsuit. OB/Gyn’s are especially sensitive to this issue due to the near certainty that they will be requiring the services of many lawyers during their careers.

5. The plastic bubble

Despite the seemingly infinite supply of humans on Planet Earth, there’s so much that can go wrong with any individual human pregnancy that safer is better. But how far do we take that message? A plastic bubble is not practical...nor medically advisable. And yet, were we to take many OB/Gyn’s advice on ALL their points, such would be our fate. 

6. Perspective

Bacteria, viruses and animals DO exist in our world. How far should we go to we steel ourselves against their ubiquity? Given that the most likely source of a catastrophic infection may come from another human, how careful do we really need to be when living with our pets? 

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post detailing the last four points--along with your specific risks and official recommendations for living well with your pets during your human pregnancy.

Sneak peek:

7. Cat diseases

8. Dog diseases

9. Pet products and medications

10. Safe baby prep