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Can I change the litter box while pregnant?
Q: I have a cat, and I'm three months pregnant. I've heard that I shouldn't be changing the cat litter as it may cause problems for my unborn child. How can I convince my husband that he should be the one cleaning and changing the litter?
A: The reason for caution around cat litter during pregnancy is that a parasite called toxoplasma may be carried in cat feces. Cats acquire this parasite from infected birds and rodents; exclusively indoor cats would not be exposed. Handling cat litter (or gardening without gloves) could expose you to toxoplasmosis, an illness that's relatively mild in adults but can cause severe birth defects in an unborn baby. If you have had much exposure to cats in the past, it's possible you already have developed antibodies that provide a lifetime of protection from this illness.

To protect yourself from acquiring toxoplasmosis during your pregnancy, you should ask your provider for a blood test to see if you have already developed immunity to the illness. Make sure to use gloves when handling kitty litter or gardening, and then wash your hands with soap and water – or plead with your husband to do these tasks. Also, carefully wash fruits and vegetables and thoroughly cook meats to avoid other means of getting toxoplasmosis.

Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist