Q & A: Pregnancy and cats, dogs and heatstroke

Please remember that the advice given here is of a general nature, and if you have any concerns about your pet’s health you should contact your vet immediately.

Q: I am 3 months pregnant and have been advised by my doctor to either re-home my cats, or to keep away from them completely. Is this correct?

A: You do not need to re-home your cats, but you should take some sensible precautions mainly relating to hygiene. The main issue is a disease known as Toxoplasmosis, a parasite capable of infecting many mammalian and avian species. In the UK we are mainly concerned with the clinical disease it can cause in cats, dogs, sheep, goats and man. In pregnant women with no previous exposure to the organism, clinical disease may lead to abortion or foetal abnormalities. Cats are considered to be the definitive host for the parasite, and can shed potentially infective oocysts in their faeces. I must emphasise that humans are most commonly infected as a result of eating undercooked contaminated meat, and far less commonly by the ingestion of cat faecal material. Minimising the risk of infection, especially as you are pregnant, requires following some basic guidelines:

  • All meat should be properly cooked, and milk and dairy products pasteurised.
  • Wash hands and cutting surfaces thoroughly after preparing uncooked meat.
  • Avoid direct contact with cat litter and faeces. (ideally another family member should clean out the trays, but wear gloves and wash hands after cleaning if that is not an option).
  • Clean out cat litter trays every day as it takes more than 24 hours for the oocysts in the faeces to become infective.
  • Wear gloves when gardening.
  • Wash all fruit and vegetables prior to consumption.
  • Cover children’s sandpits.

Dogs and heatstroke

I would like to take this opportunity to remind dog owners of the dangers of leaving dogs in cars during warmer weather. Dogs lose heat through panting, which raises the humidity and temperature in the car causing the dog to overheat. Even on cooler days this process can occur, and may lead to heatstroke, a veterinary emergency which can be fatal – please do not leave your dogs in cars especially at this time of year.