Skip to main content

Good news: You really should not change the kitty litter box while pregnant

Like all major life changes, pregnancy has its pitfalls as well as its bright spots. Weight gain, stretch marks, lower back pain, and sciatica are all part of the uncomfortable reality of pregnancy faced by many. But there are plenty of positives, too. In addition to the excitement of welcoming your new baby, pregnancy means you get to skip period cramps for nine months. But did you know you probably shouldn’t be handling the kitty litter box while pregnant? We’ll give you the full scoop on the potential dangers of dealing with litter boxes while pregnant, and we’ll teach you how to safely change the kitty litter box if you absolutely have to. 

A dark-haired pregnant woman cuddles a gray cat on a sofa.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why is changing kitty litter dangerous during pregnancy?

Sharing your home with a cat isn’t risk free. Allergy and asthma sufferers may experience an increase in symptoms. Adopting a new fur baby may lead to a flea infestation. Scratches and bites can become infected, sometimes causing cat-scratch fever, also known as cat-scratch disease or CSD. When you’re pregnant, however, the main risk posed by your beloved fur baby actually lurks in the litter box. 

Toxoplasmosis, which is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, also known as T. gondii,  is typically spread through contact with cat feces. Changing your cat’s litter box, coming into contact with soiled grass if your cat defecates outdoors, eating some types of cured meats or unpasteurized dairy products, or consuming undercooked meat can all result in this parasitic infection. In most cases, toxoplasmosis doesn’t cause any symptoms, but it can cause adults to feel like they have the flu. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, or a sore throat, and you’ve done any of the following during pregnancy:

  • handled a cat’s litter box
  • spent time in a garden 
  • eaten undercooked meat 
  • eaten unwashed fruits and vegetables, including salad
  • consumed unpasteurized dairy products  

Toxoplasmosis and pregnancy

The CDC estimates that as much as 15% of the U.S. population aged 12 and up have had toxoplasmosis, granting a natural immunity against future infections. But if you’ve never had toxoplasmosis and lack immunity, contracting this parasitic infection during pregnancy can have heartbreaking consequences. Toxoplasmosis can cause preterm birth, miscarriage, and even stillbirth. If you’re infected with toxoplasmosis during the third trimester, your baby has an 80 percent chance of being born with an active infection, putting them at risk of eye damage, hearing loss, jaundice, or an enlarged liver or spleen.

A pregnant woman wearing a long-sleeved black shirt holds a tabby cat in her arms.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Will I have to get rid of my cat?

Pregnant cat parents are frequently cautioned by well-meaning individuals to rehome their cats. While toxoplasmosis is frightening, the good news is that you don’t need to get rid of your fur baby during pregnancy. If you’ve had cats your entire life, there’s a chance you’ve already had toxoplasmosis and might be immune. Toxoplasmosis screenings are rarely performed during pregnancy, but you can ask your doctor to check for antibodies if you think you may have had toxoplasmosis in the past or if you think you’ve recently been exposed. 

Living with a cat while pregnant

Your cat is part of your family, and you don’t want to give up your fur baby simply because you’re pregnant. Fortunately, you don’t have to. However, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of contracting toxoplasmosis during pregnancy. Here are a few helpful tips:

  • Ask a friend, partner, or other family member to change your kitty litter box every day. It takes between one to five days for the parasite shed by fecal matter to become infectious. 
  • If you have to change the litter box by yourself, wear a pair of disposable gloves while handling the litter, and make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterward. 
  • Always wear gloves when working outdoors and gardening; wash your hands as soon as you’ve finished for the day. 
  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked meats during pregnancy, as roughly half of all toxoplasmosis infections are caused by undercooked meats. 
  • Avoid unpasteurized milk products, such as certain yogurts, soft cheeses, and ice cream made with unpasteurized (sometimes called “raw”) milk.  
  • Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables before consumption, including pre-washed fruits, veggies, and salad kits. 
An orange and white cat sprawls on a sofa beside a pregnant woman.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Avoiding toxoplasmosis during pregnancy doesn’t have to be difficult. Try to avoid changing the cat litter box, wear gloves when gardening, and avoid undercooked meat and unwashed produce. With a few precautions and a bit of help around the house, you can reduce your chances of contracting toxoplasmosis to almost zero and still keep your furry best buddy as part of your growing family.

Editors' Recommendations

Mary Johnson
Mary Johnson is a writer and photographer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has been published in PawTracks and…
Why do cats open their mouths when they smell? It’s for a really cool reason
The Flehmen response is a little-known reaction in felines that allows them to take in more of their surroundings
A white and tabby cat with their mouth open

Think of the last time you smelled something foul. How did you react? If you're truly made of steel, you may not have reacted at all, but for most people, it's impossible not to flare your nostrils at least. You may have even made a face! All of these reactions are perfectly natural, though humans aren't the only species that reacts to smells, both good and bad. Even your cuddly cat sniffs out the world around them sometimes,
If you've ever noticed your cat reacting to a smell, you're not alone. Some folks have even noticed their cat opening their mouth -- and even sticking out their tongue -- while smelling, but it's not so clear what this means. Is this a reaction to a scent, or is it just a way to get an extra thorough sniff? Whatever it may be, we're here to find out.
Needless to say, you're not alone if you're wondering, "Why do cats open their mouths when they smell?" We've scoured trusted sources to find out, and this is what we know.

Why do cats open their mouths when they smell?
Watching your curious cat open their mouth in a kind of sneer while they get a good sniff of something can raise a lot of questions -- it's understandable. When people do this, it's usually a response to an unpleasant smell, but when cats do this, they're actually trying to get a better understanding of the scent in the air.

Read more
Why you should feel honored if your cat sleeps at your feet
If you've ever wondered about this cat behavior, this article is for you
Calico cat lying on a white comforter

Have you noticed that when you go to sleep, your cat automatically heads to the foot of the bed and curls up by your feet? It's no mistake, and it's not your cat giving you the cold shoulder, either. This is a deliberate decision on your kitty's part, and there are many reasons why they might choose to sleep there instead of curling up on your stomach or by your shoulder. In fact, if your cat sleeps by your feet, you should take it as a compliment and feel flattered.

So, why do cats sleep at your feet? It's a mix of your cat's affection for you, a feeling of safety, and even the body heat you generate that play into your cat's decision to sleep at the foot of the bed.

Read more
4 reasons why cats wag their tails while lying down
This behavior is almost always never something to worry about
Cat yawns while sitting in a window

We know all about dog tail wagging, and most pet owners can spot the difference between a happy twitch and a cautious one. But did you realize that cats use their tails to express themselves, too? Like with dogs, the cat tail swish could mean a few different things, and it's important to have some sense of feline behavior — and your specific kitty — to decipher their movements. So why do cats wag their tails while lying down? We'll walk you through the most common causes and when you might need to step in.

Why do cats wag their tails while lying down?
If you stumble upon your kitty lying down and only moving their tail, it's probably because of one of these four reasons.
They feel happy or playful
You might see your cat lying lazily in the sun, but suddenly they give a little tail twitch as you approach. It's not your imagination. They're excited to see you and ready to play. Assuming you don't note any signs of aggression (we'll get to those later), you should head on over to pet your cat or grab their favorite toy and start a game.
It's hunting time
We can all picture the lion stalking their prey while slowly moving their tail back and forth — your cat does this, too. Oftentimes, this one will happen when they're lying on a perch or near a window and can spy on birds or small mammals in the yard. It could even be that they've spotted a fly and will pounce at any minute. All you need to do here is reach for your camera and enjoy your silly kitty at their best.
They're stressed
A cat that feels stressed will often floof their tail and start to wag it. Kitties generally puff up their fur to appear larger and more menacing. This action may also combine with an arched back or a hiss. Alternatively, sometimes tail thumping comes from overstimulation. You'll recognize pretty quickly which movements indicate fear and which mean fun.
They're dreaming
Sometimes, you'll observe your mouser twitch their tail while sleeping. It could come from a simple muscle spasm just like you get when you sleep (it also might mean they're hunting down prey in their dreams). Additionally, your sleepy kitty may be, well, faking it. They might look asleep but are actually just resting and waiting for you to come over.

Read more