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Toxoplasmosis - climate of confused cat advice concerns expectant mums

UK mums are confused and concerned over the advice they receive about cats and pregnancy, according to latest research conducted by Cats Protection.

The study, which surveyed over 1500 mothers or expectant mothers through the website netmums.co.uk, found that almost seven out of ten women admitted they were worried they could catch something from their pet while pregnant and 60% were concerned that their cat could pass on an illness to their new baby.

The UK’s leading cat welfare charity decided to conduct the study and launch the results in advance of National Family Week because hundreds of pregnant women phone the charity’s national helpline each year to ask about giving up their cat – something that Cats Protection says is unnecessary and is only adding to the UK’s unwanted cat problem.

Maggie Roberts, Cats Protection’s Director of Veterinary Services, said: “Our research shows that women are worrying about diseases such as toxoplasmosis but they aren’t being presented with accurate information. Studies show that cat owners are statistically no more likely to get toxoplasmosis than non-cat owners. The chance of contracting the disease from your cat is very small indeed – in fact you are more likely to get it from handling raw meat. Of course all cat owners should practise good hygiene routines, especially hand washing after dealing with a litter tray and before handling food, but that’s just common sense”.

The survey also revealed that over 35% of pregnant women were being given the wrong advice about cats and pregnancy and over a quarter of women who received advice from a family member were told to get rid of their cat. Even more worrying, according to Maggie Roberts, over 16% of respondents were advised to give up their cats by a non-qualified resource such as a blog or forum. “As a vet, I’ve noticed the rise in new media has led some pet owners to assume they are receiving expert knowledge from the internet when often quite the opposite is true,” she warned. “People should always ensure they are taking advice from a reputable source.”

Family doctor and parenting author Dr Carol Cooper also believes the misconceptions the survey revealed are cause for concern: “I'm horrified how many women give up a loved family pet because they wrongly believe they shouldn't have contact with cats during pregnancy. This can upset the whole family. As for the poor cat, it goes into care and charities like Cats Protection are stuck with finding new homes - not an easy task in this current climate.”

In light of the findings, Cats Protection is keen to reassure all parents-to-be that, by following a few simple steps, it is safe to keep your cat while welcoming new additions to your family.

The advice includes:

    • Get someone else to change your cat’s litter tray if you can, and if you can't, wear gloves and wash your hands carefully after changing the box
    • Change cat litter daily as T. gondii is infectious between one and five days after the cat defecates
    • Do not feed your cat raw meat
    • Wash your hands after contact with stray cats and kittens
    • Keep outdoor sandboxes covered
    • Wear gloves when gardening in case a cat has toileted there

To support its recommendations, Cats Protection has produced a leaflet on toxoplasmosis which can be downloaded from www.cats.org.uk/toxo Anyone worried about owning a cat during pregnancy can call the charity’s national Helpline on 03000 12 12 12 for advice.