The big risk here is a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii. Toxoplasma is a single cell parasite that can cause birth defects or abortions in women that are infected during pregnancy. It can only complete its life cycle in cats but is able to infect many living hosts including humans.
While the safest method is to have someone else change the litter box, you can practically eliminate your risks if you follow these recommendations:
- Change the litter box daily. Eggs are passed in the feces of infected cats and take approximately 24 hours to reach a stage where they can infect humans. Since this process takes one full day, cleaning the litter box daily should eliminate the risk of being infected. As a precaution, wear a dusk mask and rubber gloves.
- Have your cat’s stool sample checked for Toxoplasma. If your cat is not shedding eggs and has no source of infection (i.e. uncooked meat or other cat’s feces), you have nothing to worry about. If your cat is shedding eggs, it will only do so for about 2 weeks. Then you are safe to change the litter.
- Have a Toxoplasma titer done on yourself. If you already have been exposed, you should not be able to catch it again. You have to be infected for the first time during pregnancy to have problems.
- An interesting side note is that while a big deal is made out of changing the litter box, most people catch this parasite from undercooked meat. Always cook meat completely, if only while you are pregnant.
If you have any other questions or concerns or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact Hudson Veterinary Hospital at (330)650-2929.