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What’s the Deal with Litter Boxes and Pregnant Ladies?

Eyeball helping with the dishes
Eyeball helping with the dishes

Q: Dear Nora,
I’ve heard that pregnant women shouldn’t clean litter boxes. If there is something in cat litter that is bad for pregnant women, couldn’t it be bad for everyone? Help! We want healthy cat litter for the whole family! 

A: It’s not the litter that is the problem, it’s what you are scooping out of the litter. Cats (particularly those who go outside or eat raw meat– including mice caught inside) can carry a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. The parasite lives in our poop, and can be transmitted to you when you scoop the box.

In a healthy and non-pregnant person, toxoplasmosis (though sometimes more serious) normally only causes cold or flu-like symptoms. In a pregnant woman, however, the parasite can transmit to the fetus and cause a more serious reaction– even a miscarriage.

It’s great if you have someone else who can scoop the box while you’re pregnant. If that’s not possible, you can wear gloves while scooping. Always wash your hands well afterwards, and never put your grimy hands to your mouth before you wash them. As for your cats, you can greatly minimize their chances of spreading this parasite by keeping them indoors and feeding them a diet of canned or commercial dried cat food (never raw or undercooked meat).