For a long time, we’ve known that cats (specifically their poop) can carry toxoplasmosis, which can infect pregnant women and their fetus. It could affect the eyes or the brain of the baby. We’ve been telling pregnant women to have someone else in the house deal with the kitty litter. Pregnant women everywhere were happy to heed this advice.
What about dogs, birds and farm animals? Would the same caution about pregnant women avoiding feces be true?
Recently, there have been a few cases of pregnant women or children contacting a disease from dogs — specifically pregnant dogs or newborn puppies. You see, mama dogs, or wannabe mama dogs in heat, can carry a disease called brucellosis. They also can pass it onto their puppies through the birth canal. Humans tend to get it by handling newborn puppies or helping in the delivery of the puppies.
Dr. Sina Haeri, director of perinatal research and co-director of maternal fetal medicine at St. David’s Women’s Center of Texas, says brucellosis can cause people to have a fever, joint weakness and fatigue. In pregnant women, they could miscarry if they are in the first trimester. Later on, they have a higher risk of preterm labor and stillbirth. Doctors will want to monitor their cervix closely for signs of preterm labor and the fetus throughout the pregnancy. We don’t have enough data about birth defects from brucellosis, Haeri says.
Contacting brucellosis from dogs, though, is rare. In Haeri’s career here, where he also works in the Marble Falls and Fredericksburg area, and in rural North Carolina, he has seen seven cases. None of them from dogs. Instead, they have happened after a pregnant woman helps a mama sheep, goat or cow deliver their babies. His most recent case was a mama goat biting her pregnant human helper during labor. (See goats don’t handle labor well, either.)
The good thing about brucellosis is it is avoidable in most farm animals because they can be vaccinated against it. Also avoid it by not performing those birthing and breeding activities during pregnancy. In dogs, though rare, pregnant women also should not handle dogs giving birth or their newborn puppies.
Brucellosis is not something that doctors will screen for, so if you are pregnant and have been exposed to birthing farm animals or dogs, let your doctor know about that if you have a weird fever or joint pain. The treatment would be a six-week course of a two antibiotics.
Toxoplasmosis from cats is much more of a concern. Haeri calls it, “the bane of my existence” and the No. 1 reason why women get referred to him by their obstetricians. The screening for toxoplasmosis comes with a lot of false positives. If you have a negative reading, you can be sure it is negative. If you have a positive one, don’t panic, don’t make any drastic decisions, you might not have it and your baby might not have it. See a specialist for further screening.
Haeri encourages women to exercise good caution. Most indoor-only cats are probably fine; outdoor cats are typically the carriers of toxoplasmosis. If you cannot get someone else to do the kitty litter, wear a mask, gloves and wash your hands afterwards.
He also encourages pregnant women to avoid bird droppings as well because of parrot fever aka psittacosis. It gives women flu-like symptoms.
A good rule– no matter what the pet — is to practice good hygiene and have someone else deal in the droppings during pregnancy. Haeri also says why not throw in the dishes and cleaning the house, too?