If you're a pet owner when you discover you're pregnant, you might have some worries about cats in pregnancy and beyond. That's why we've put together the answers to the two most common questions asked about cats in pregnancy - Toxoplasmosis and cats sleeping with babies.
I've read that you can catch Toxoplasmosis from cats and that it's not safe to have a cat when you're pregnant. Is that true?
Toxoplasmosis is a common infection caused by a parasite that in most cases won't cause any symptoms. The parasite can be found in cured meats such as parma ham and salami, undercooked or raw meat and the faeces of infected cats and other animals. Around a third of the UK population will be infected during their lives (most without ever knowing) and from then on are immune. To become infected the parasite has to be ingested and the infection can't be passed from person to person.
It is true that if a woman becomes infected while she is pregnant it can cause serious health problems to the baby such as brain damage and blindness, but the NHS website states that Toxoplasmosis in pregnancy and Congenital Toxoplasmosis are rare, with around 3 babies in every 100,000 born with the condition in the UK.
To protect yourself, avoid cat faeces in cat litter or soil. This basically means practicing good hygiene - wear gloves and wash your hands afterwards, or get someone else to clean the litter tray for you!
How can I prepare my cat for the arrival of a baby?
SuiLi Stenhouse, Cattery Team Leader at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, explains: 'It is important to begin the process of acclimatising your cat to
the forthcoming change as soon as possible, introducing new items and
changes gradually over the course of the pregnancy. Rather than
lavishing extra fuss to make up for the lack of time you will spend with
your cat later, withdrawing some of your attention very slowly will
help your cat to get used to this - if she is used to constant adoration
it can be harder to understand why you no longer have any time for her!
If certain areas are going to become off limits we suggest getting them
used to a closed door (which cats often hate!) and start implementing
these new rules prior to bringing the baby home so that the cat does not
suddenly find itself cut off from a favourite napping spot.
cat will take it all in her stride much more easily if you can
introduce new items of essential baby equipment slowly (and before they
contain a baby), and you can acclimatise your cat to the sound of babies
crying by searching the internet for the sounds and inviting any
friends or family with children to come and visit - accompanied at all
times, of course. This might give you an idea of how your cat will
behave around your new arrival; eg curious, worried, frightened...?
suggest that the cat is given a quiet and safe place to retreat to if
she wants to stay out of the way, with her food and resources still
available to her, and using a calming product like Feliway can also help
the cat to cope more easily, particularly if your cat is of a nervous
'Introductions between baby and cat should
be kept calm and positive, and be initiated only when the child is quiet
and content - crying or screaming will not make a good first
impression! Interactions should involve lots of praise and strokes for
the cat. If the cat would like to investigate the baby more closely then
this should not be discouraged, but always supervise and make sure that
you are monitoring the interaction and gently intervene before either
can upset the other. A frightened cat is more likely to make a negative
association with the baby.'
I'm worried that when the baby comes along the cat might climb into the baby's cot and suffocate it.
This is partly based on the old superstitions that cats suck the breath out of babies, which is just what it says, an old superstition, combined with the fact that cats seek out warmth to sleep. Stenhouse explains: 'Often cats may be attracted by the snuffly, animal-like noises that a
baby makes - perhaps more familiar to them than the rest of the noises
we make and expect them to understand! Babies are also given places to
sleep that are very attractive to cats - being warm and cosy with soft
blankets, and of course babies themselves are warm!'
However, it's extremely unlikely that a cat would suffocate a baby and in news reports of this being the case they also state the likelihood that the babies died from other causes instead.
If you're at all worried, keep your baby and your cat apart with a cat net. They're widely available for Moses baskets, cots, cotbeds, prams and buggies. They're safe for babies as they allow air to circulate and you can see in, but cats won't be able to get near the baby. Try Mothercare or John Lewis.