Pets and Pregnancy

You are an animal lover, just found out that you are pregnant, and are now wondering what safety concerns there are regarding your special pet. Going straight to the pound may not have to be the answer! However, here are some things you need to consider for keeping yourself safe along with planning a safe environment when your baby arrives.

What about pregnancy and your dog?

Overall, dogs do not pose any health risks for you and your developing baby while you are pregnant. The main concern is that large dogs might jump on your abdomen while you are lying down or sitting in a chair. The likelihood of any problem is extremely low, but if your dog is heavy and is in the habit of jumping on you, it would be best to begin training him not to do that.

A second concern develops after the baby arrives. Young children are the most frequent victims of dog bites. Your child will be exploratory by nature and might poke, pull hair, or crawl up behind and startle dogs. Unfortunately, your child’s innocent exploration may elicit an involuntary response (i.e. snip or bite) from your dog.

Here are some helpful tips to help create a safer and happier environment for you, your baby and your precious dog:

  • Identify habits of your dog that may be a problem when the new baby arrives, and begin re-training now.
  • Begin training your dog on the idea of a new baby in the house. Practice routines that you will be doing later so that all the changes do not happen at once for your dog. Sometimes using a doll at the table or sitting in a seat can work.
  • Start training your dog on the difference between his toys and the baby’s toys.
  • Believe it or not, your dog may get jealous of the attention directed at your new baby. Make sure you remember to pay some special attention to your dog, too. Include your dog in some of the play with the baby.
  • Always monitor your child when he/she is around a dog.
  • Never leave a dog alone with a child.
  • You dont need to ban yur pets during pregnancy. Talk with your vet about helpful ways to introduce your dog and new baby.

What about pregnancy and your cat?

The transmission of an infection called toxoplasmosis is the primary concern related to cats. Transmission occurs from contact with feline feces. Outdoor cats are more likely to have toxoplasmosis than cats that remain strictly indoors.

If a woman is immune to toxoplasmosis before pregnancy, then the baby is safe. Approximately 15% of women in the United States are immune to the infection, and the likelihood of immunity is higher for women who have owned cats for a long time.

According to the Organization of Teratology Information Services (OTIS), when the mother gets infected between weeks 10-24, the risk for severe problems in the newborn is about 5-6%. Effects on the baby include: premature birth, low birth weight, fever, jaundice, abnormalities of the retina, mental retardation, abnormal head size, convulsions, and brain calcification.

During the 3rd trimester, a fetus has an increased risk of becoming infected, but the risk of damage to the fetus is decreased since most of the important development has already occurred.

Exposure to a cat’s feces will most commonly occur in the garden where cats bury their bowel movements or when you change the litter box. It is best to avoid changing the litter box because even the dust can create exposure.

Here are a few helpful hints to help create a safer environment during your pregnancy:

  • If you are a cat owner and you are considering getting pregnant, it would be beneficial to test for immunity to toxoplasmosis before you get pregnant (Immunity is determined by a simple blood test from your physician.)
  • If you must do some gardening, wear gloves at all times
  • Avoid changing the litter box; have someone else do it
  • Do not leave your cat with your new baby unsupervised

Toxoplasmosis poses serious risks for your baby which include: mental retardation, blindness, learning disabilities, stillbirth or pre-term birth. Inform your health care provider that you are a cat owner. If you are infected while you are pregnant there is an antibiotic to reduce the likelihood that the baby will be infected.

What about pregnancy and your exotic reptile or amphibian?

Lizards, iguanas, turtles, frogs, snakes and other reptiles or amphibians make for intriguing pets, but there is a risk to you and your developing baby. Exposure to the feces of these pets, direct or indirect, can result in the transmission of the salmonella bacteria which can adversely affect your pregnancy.

The risk of transmission of the salmonella bacteria is an important concern for children under the age of five as well. Their immune systems are still developing and exposure to reptile feces puts the child’s health at risk. Unfortunately, the safest course of action is to have a reptilian or amphibian pet removed from the house until your child reaches his fifth birthday.

If you decide to keep your pet, here are some helpful hints to create a safer environment for you and your new baby:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water following any handling of a reptile, amphibian or its cage
  • Do NOT allow reptiles or amphibians in the kitchen, on the counter, or near any other food preparation area
  • Do NOT use the kitchen sink to give the reptile a bath or to clean the cage. Ideally you should clean the cage outdoors; however, if you use the bathtub, make sure you disinfect it with bleach
  • Do NOT allow a young child to handle the reptile, amphibian or to play with the cage
  • Do NOT let the reptile roam around the house

What about pregnancy and your pet bird?

If your bird is healthy, everything should be alright for you and your baby. Birds can transmit campylobacter, salmonella, chlamydiosis, or some protozoal infections that could be contagious to humans. A complete exam by your veterinarian can determine the health status of your bird.

Some birds, like cockatoos, are rather dusty. Running filters in your house can help remove the dust and dander from the air. This makes a cleaner environment for you, your family and your new baby.

Here are a few helpful hints to create a safer environment during your pregnancy:

  • Inform your health care provider that you are pregnant and that you have a pet bird in the house
  • Take your bird to the veterinarian for a health exam; tell the vet that you are trying to conceive or if you are already pregnant
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water following any handling of the bird or its cage
  • Avoid changing the bird cage; have someone else do it
  • Caution for the bird: keep the bird away from talcum powder, baby lotion, safety pins, formula, aerosols, or dirty diapers which may all cause harm to the bird

What about pregnancy and farm animals?

Farm animals are known to carry listeria, campylobacter, salmonella, and cryptosporidium which may all cause problems for you and your developing baby. Removing yourself from the farm is not a likely solution, so here are a few helpful hints to create a safer environment during your pregnancy:

  • Do NOT participate in silage feeding
  • Do NOT handle stillborn animals
  • Only drink pasteurized milk
  • Do NOT drink untreated water; if you are using a well, have it tested for nitrate, coliform bacteria and other potentially harmful agents
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water following any contact with farm animals or their living areas
Last Updated: 09/2008

Compiled using information from the following sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/

City of Kansas City, http://www.kcmo.org/

Organization of Teratology Information Services, http://www.otispregnancy.org/

World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/en/

American Pregnancy Association, http://www.americanpregnancy.org

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