Guide to understanding toxoplasmosis during pregnancy while owning a cat or feeding raw pet food
The fear of toxoplasmosis and effects on pregnancy
Recently, we’ve had questions about the fear of getting toxoplasmosis during pregnancy from a cat or from raw pet food. Typical questions we receive are:
- “We are pregnant and have heard that we could contract toxoplasmosis/ listeria from raw dog food.” Or alternatively,
- “We are worried about the risk of exposure to toxoplasmosis as we feed freeze-dried dog/ cat treats.”
- How common is it to get toxoplasmosis during pregnancy from your pet?
- We’ve heard toxoplasmosis during pregnancy is bad. What do I do if I have a cat or feed raw dog food?
First of all, Congratulations on being pregnant (or maybe you are feeling too sick to want to be congratulated). Whatever, the case we will get right to the reason you are here. Below are considerations so you can make a decision based on information not fear.
These considerations cobble together different research papers, CDC, FDA info and holistic vet opinions.
What is toxoplasmosis and how does it affect pregnancy?
- “Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. The Toxoplasma parasite can persist for long periods of time in the bodies of humans (and other animals), possibly even for a lifetime.” (1)
- According to the CDC, the definitive transmission through pets is through cat feces, when they are outdoor pets and eat an infected animal such as a rodent or bird.
- “If you were infected with Toxoplasma before becoming pregnant your unborn child is protected by your immunity.” (2) Chances are better if you weren’t infected up to 3 months before conception.(3)
- Transmission to your unborn child happens when you are newly infected.
- Note that cats only shed
T. gondii for a short time. “It takes a minimum of 24 hours for T. gondii oocysts in cat feces to sporulate and become infective, frequent removal of feces from the litter box, while wearing gloves and washing hands afterward, minimizes the possibility of infection.” (4)
- Kittens and immune suppressed cats eg. with FIV or FeLV are more likely to shed the parasite than adult cats. (4)
- Toxoplasmosis can cause serious illness/ disability in the child later in life.
Top 5 Considerations when you are pregnant and want to avoid toxoplasmosis/ listeria from pet food
Here are our top 6 considerations when you are pregnant and want to avoid contracting toxoplasmosis/ listeria from your pet. These considerations are based on research and also, frankly a bit of common sense.
- If you are having a high-risk pregnancy or are immune compromised then feeding raw pet food may not be appropriate.
- Having said #1, we can attest to numerous pregnant customers who fed raw dog food without any issues.
- Their decisions were made based on their research that showed their baby was not at risk. See reference (2) from CDC for more context.
- For cat owners, the pregnant person should stop taking care of the cat’s litter. Typically, cat poo is where most of the issues of exposure to toxoplasmosis occurs from pets. (1)
- It is highly unlikely to get toxoplasmosis from your dog unless you are somehow ingesting the raw meat diet also.
- It is more likely to get toxoplasmosis if you are eating uncooked meat or not washing your vegetables/ fruits.
- I’ve not seen any research that indicates that dogs shed toxoplasmosis even when they ingest any contaminated food.
- Although the CDC does not recommend feeding raw cat food, no mention is made for raw dog food. (2)
- “Freezing meat in domestic freezers for 24 hours generally renders T. gondii nonviable.” (5)
- Commercial raw dog food tend to be frozen longer and at lower temperatures.
- Some research indicates that listeria in beef may survive freezing.
- You can contract Listeria through similar mechanisms as toxoplasmosis. No cats involved here.
- Listeria is a soil/ water- borne bacteria and is likely from eating uncooked meat or not washing your vegetables/ fruits.
Be just as careful with dog kibble or cat kibble
- There used to be more recalls of pet kibble for listeria, salmonella & e coli. However, with the advent of raw pet food, the FDA seems to be disregarding these issues in kibble. (6) See here.
- Most of the testing seems to be of raw pet food brands that are homemade or not reputable. Thus, we are seeing increases in the focus on raw dog food as opposed to dog kibble.
- It is probably more likely to get listeria/ salmonella from kibble because owners do not wash their hands after touching it. This is because most pet owners assume incorrectly that as kibble was cooked it protects them from listeria, salmonella or e coli. Contamination typically happens in the kibble manufacturing process after cooking. See here for information on kibble manufacturing.
- However, they persist in kibble just as well. Common sense forces people to wash their hand when they touch raw meat diets for dogs or cats.
See research warning here.
Suggestions for minimizing exposure to toxoplasmosis, listeria, salmonella when feeding pet food
- The normal suggestions from the FDA still prevail. They usually revolve around cooking your food thoroughly, washing your hand, washing your pet’s bowl thoroughly.
- The latter suggestions are already things that raw pet food feeders already do.
- With any meat-based pet treat, whether freeze-dried raw or cooked, wash your hands well.
- Regardless of whether your pet is on raw meat diet or kibble, wash your hands if you dish pet food.
- Where poop or cat litter is concerned, get your partner to take care of those chores. Alternatively, find a really good friend if your partner isn’t available especially for cat litter.
- Wash your hands if you pick up poop regardless of whether you think your hands are clean.
- Use oregano oil for disinfecting surfaces and bowls if you can stomach the smell.
All the best and hope this gives you a bit context. Please keep your cat because you now have all the information you need about toxoplasmosis and pregnancy.
- CDC Parasites – Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma infection) https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/faqs.html
- CDC Toxoplasmosis & Pregnancy https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/pregnant.html
- Toxoplasmosis and pregnancy by Shahnaz Akhtar Chaudhry, Nanette Gad and Gideon Koren. Canadian Family Physician April 2014, 60 (4) 334-336; http://www.cfp.ca/content/60/4/334
- Toxoplasmosis in Cats https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/toxoplasmosis-cats
- Swine Toxoplasmosis J.P. Dubey, USDA, ARS, Beltsville, Maryland. Veterinary Division – Animal Health Programs https://www.ncagr.gov/vet/FactSheets/Toxoplasmosis.htm
- How Long Has It Been Since We’ve Seen a Kibble Recall? https://truthaboutpetfood.com/how-long-has-it-been-since-weve-seen-a-kibble-recall/