Hi Dr. Barchas,
I just found out I’m pregnant. I have two cats and a dog who are all very sweet and loving, but I’m wondering if there is anything special my husband and I need to consider now that we’re going to have a baby.
San Francisco, CA
Let me preface my comments with a few general thoughts. First, remember that millions upon millions of children have grown up around cats and dogs. I believe that pets are good for children and children are good for pets. Also, don’t forget that you should never substitute anything you read on the internet for consultation with a real, live veterinarian, obstetrician, or pediatrician. That’s especially true if infants and children are concerned.
That said, there are several things I’d recommend you consider. Cats may carry a parasite, called Toxoplasma, that can cause miscarriage or birth defects. This parasite receives an amount of press and hype that is out of proportion to the risk it poses. However, you should take a few precautions to ensure your pregnancy is not put at risk. The simplest of these is to have your husband clean the litter box daily. People are exposed to the parasite through contact with cat feces, so if your husband cleans the box, your risk will be dramatically reduced. Your veterinarian or obstetrician can provide more information and recommendations about Toxoplasma.
Once your baby is born, there are other issues to remember. Some of them are common-sense. For instance, take care to ensure that your child is not scratched or bitten by your pets. In my experience, this happens very rarely–most pets immediately bond with new family members. But be careful nonetheless. Remember that cats are most likely to scratch when they are cornered by toddlers, and dogs are most likely to bite during meal times.
Dogs and cats may carry diseases that can be spread to children. These include rabies, roundworm infestation, and ringworm. The first two have the potential to be very serious. However, appropriate vaccination, deworming, and veterinary examinations can virtually eliminate the risk.
Don’t forget to keep your pet free of fleas. Fleas spread human and animal diseases ranging from tapeworms to bubonic plague. As well, flea feces can contaminate carpets and beds. Advantage and Frontline are generally safer for your children than flea bombs, flea collars, or household pesticides.
Finally, please don’t let the information in this column scare you. Although there are several issues you must consider if you are pregnant and have pets, you can minimize the risk to your child by following your veterinarian’s advice.