Why Can't You Scoop The Litter Box While Pregnant? An Expert Weighs In

I am a huge animal person. I grew up with many pets, my parents are rescue advocates, and I work in a local healthy pet food store. I’m also the proud owner of two beagles and two cats. One chore I hate the most, however, is scooping the litter box. My husband and I are currently trying to conceive a human baby to add to our menagerie of furbabies, and I’ve heard getting pregnant may sneak me out of that chore. But why can’t you scoop the litter box while pregnant? Will I get to ignore it for at least nine months? Is this another (very small) perk of having kids?

According to Dr. Yvonne Bohn, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, some cats can carry an organism called “toxoplasmosis” in their poop, which can cause birth defects in a developing fetus if you’re exposed to it while pregnant. Thus when you scoop the litter box (which is more likely than not filled with poop), you could potentially become infected by toxoplasmosis and harm your growing baby.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines toxoplasmosis as a “single-celled parasite called toxoplasma gondii,” and it can be found throughout the world. “Of those who are infected, very few have symptoms because a healthy person’s immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness, however, pregnant women and individuals who have compromised immune systems should be cautious, because for them, a toxoplasmosis infection could cause serious health problems,” the CDC warned.

Ways you can potentially be infected with toxoplasmosis, other than scooping your litter box, include “eating undercooked, contaminated meat (especially pork, lamb, and venison), accidental ingestion of undercooked, contaminated meat after handling it and not washing hands thoroughly, eating food that was contaminated by knives, utensils, cutting boards, and other foods that have had contact with raw, contaminated meat, or drinking water that has been contaminated,” the CDC noted.

The American Pregnancy Association (APA) claims that in the United States, only one out of 1,000 to 8,000 babies are born with toxoplasmosis, and that “veterinary clinics, animal shelters, and meat packing operations are environments conducive to transmission.” The potential birth defects include “premature birth, low birth weight, fever, jaundice, abnormalities of the retina, mental retardation, abnormal head size, convulsions and brain calcification,” according to the APA.

Obviously, you’re not going to directly ingest cat poop from the litter box (unlike my beagles), but if you inhale the particles in the air, you could potentially become infected, Bohn says. “In general, it is better not to be close to a litter box when it is being cleaned … but it is safe to have a litter box in your house in general, and in any room.” However, the CDC warned if you touch anything that comes in contact with the cat feces that contains toxoplasma, or accidentally ingest contaminated soil from not washing your hands or the produce from the garden, you could be infected. Infected stray cats could potentially poop in your yard, thus getting into the soil.

How do you know if you have been infected with toxoplasmosis? The CDC noted that you may not even be aware, but some folks feel like they have the flu, with muscle aches and swollen glands, reduced or blurred vision, painful eyes from bright light, and red eyes.

If you’re not pregnant, most doctors don’t treat you, because you’re not at risk for anything too horrible happening — plus it goes away within a few weeks to a month. However, if you’re pregnant, a doctor can treat you with medication.

Lucky me, I will have an excuse to make sure my husband “scoops the poop” instead of me having to do it when I’m pregnant. And please don’t get rid of your cats if you become pregnant. It’s apparently very rare to be infected with toxoplasmosis — and most indoor-only cats wouldn’t have it anyway because they should be vaccinated. Just stay out of the room when your partner is cleaning the litter box, and enjoy a small perk of being pregnant while you can.

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