Pregnancy, Your New Baby, and Your Cat

Prevent Toxoplasmosis and Prepare Your Cat for a New Family Member

Photo of Pregnant Woman With Cat

Getty / Buena Vista Images

Pregnancy presents some challenges when you have a cat, but none of them are even remotely insurmountable. You do not have to get rid of your cat. You just need a little planning and know-how. Cats and babies have coexisted peacefully for thousands of years.

First off, cats do not suck the air out of a baby; that is an old wives tale. Yes, it is theoretically possible for a cat to inadvertently suffocate a baby, although there are no reliable reports of that ever occurring, and it's easy enough to block your cat's access to the crib.

Cat Litter and Toxoplasmosis Concerns During Pregnancy

Because toxoplasmosis can cause birth defects in children, pregnant women sometimes assume that they must get rid of their cat. This is entirely unnecessary, as a few simple measures will safeguard against catching the disease.

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite that can infect your cat if she eats prey already harboring the parasite, comes into contact with contaminated soil, or eats raw or undercooked meats. Note that cats who contract toxoplasmosis do not always show symptoms.

Many women naturally acquire an immunity to toxoplasmosis, and will not pass it on to their unborn child. In fact, the chances are that you have already been exposed to toxoplasmosis. Your doctor can test to see if you are in this group. If so, you have no worries about getting it during pregnancy.

Here are the preventative steps recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Keep Your Cat Indoors: Toxoplasmosis is rare among indoor-only cats. It is only shed in a cat's feces for a few weeks after infection, Keep your cat indoors during your pregnancy and do not feed your cat raw or undercooked meats during this time.
  • Don't Handle the Litter Box While Pregnant: Get a friend or adult member of the family to take over litter box maintenance while you are pregnant.
  • Clean the Litter Box After Each Use: The parasite only becomes infectious one to five days after being shed in the cat's feces, so if you scoop the litter box soon after the cat uses it, there will be less risk.
  • Wear Gloves and Wash Your Hands: Whenever you scoop or clean the litter box, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands immediately afterward.
  • Avoiding Infection From Raw Meat: Eating raw or undercooked meat is the most common way that humans contract toxoplasmosis. If you eat meat, wash off all surfaces and utensils that touched raw meat, and don't prepare meat and raw foods like salads on the same cutting board. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat.
  • Avoid Infection From Soil: If you garden, wear gloves when working in the soil. The toxoplasmosis parasite lives in the dirt, so also wash your hands well after gardening.

Prepare Your Cat to Accept Your New Baby

From your cat's point of view, a baby who shows up with no advance warning is a loud, threatening, and attention-stealing invader. It doesn't have to be this way. Babies and cats can be buddies. The key to getting a cat to accept a major jolt to her routine is to soften the blow and introduce the change gradually.

In the case of a new baby, you want your cat to be as used to baby stuff as she can possibly be beforehand so that when your baby comes home, kitty is not totally shocked by this interesting human life form.

  • Get your cat used to baby sounds and smells. Long before the big day, wear the baby lotions and powders that you will be using. Let your cat sniff you, and help her develop positive associations with the new scents by praising her and giving her a treat. 
  • Get a recording of a baby crying. Play it for your cat, starting with low volume and short length, and working up to full volume and duration. Again, use positive attention and treat rewards.
  • If possible, invite a friend or family member to bring their baby over for a short visit, followed by a few longer visits. During the visits, let your cat walk around. It's best to have the baby sitting on a lap. A baby seat or playpen might also work well. Play with your cat at the same time.
  • If you're building or preparing a nursery, give kitty a chance to become used to the new setup one step at a time. Let her get her curiosity thoroughly out of the way. Remember to keep up your daily interactive play sessions. Make your cat feel like she's a part of this, not an outsider.
  • Set up the crib long in advance of baby's homecoming. Make the crib uninviting (to a cat). Fill several soda cans with pennies and tape the openings of each can. Fill the crib with these soda cans. If this doesn't deter your cat, you can buy netting that fits over the crib.
  • You can also block access to the baby's room by installing an interior screen door which is quite effective.
  • Give your cat plenty of exposure to toys, mobiles, and other baby paraphernalia. The goal is to have all these things lose their novelty for her weeks before baby comes home.

Avoid Too Many Changes

Keep your cat's routine the same as much as possible. A predictable routine reduces a cat's stress and prevents a host of problems. Ask others to help make sure that your cat gets fed, brushed, and entertained in the usual manner.

Don't go overboard and give your cat extra, compensating attention prior to the baby's arrival because it will be impossible to keep that up once you have the baby at home. But do enlist family members to help your cat feel like a valued member of the family. Let all the adults and kids in your household know how they can help keep both your cat and baby safe, happy, and on peaceful terms.