Why shouldn’t I change the cat litter during pregnancy?

Cat litter and cat faeces can contain a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis infection. Although it’s very rare, if you get toxoplasmosis for the first time when you’re pregnant, or up to three months before you conceive, the infection can:

  • pass to and damage your unborn baby (mother-to-child transmission)
  • cause miscarriage or stillbirth

Therefore, it’s very important you know how to avoid toxoplasmosis infection.

Toxoplasmosis infection

Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite called toxoplasma gondii. This parasite can be found in:

  • undercooked or raw meat
  • raw cured meat, such as salami or parma ham
  • unpasteurised goats’ milk
  • cat faeces
  • water, soil or cat litter containing infected cat faeces

Sheep can also carry the parasite.

Gardening, cats and sheep

There are several precautions you can take to protect yourself from toxoplasmosis, such as:

  • wearing gloves when you garden (even if you don’t have a cat), in case the soil is contaminated with cat faeces
  • washing your hands and gloves thoroughly after gardening or handling soil
  • avoiding emptying cat litter trays when you’re pregnant – if you can’t get somebody else to do it, wear disposable rubber gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards
  • making sure its litter is changed every day (the litter tray should also be cleaned every day and filled with boiling water for five minutes)
  • making sure you wash your hands thoroughly if you come into contact with cat faeces,
  • avoiding close contact with sick cats
  • washing your hands thoroughly after handling cats
  • avoiding lambing or milking ewes
  • avoiding all contact with newborn lambs
  • if you cannot avoid contact with ewes at lambing time or with lambs, cover any open cuts or grazes with a waterproof dressing and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards
  • never handling the live toxoplasmosis vaccine used for sheep

Other precautions against toxoplasmosis

You can also avoid the risk of toxoplasmosis infection through good food hygiene and by avoiding some foods during pregnancy.

For information about other foods to avoid, see Which foods should I avoid during pregnancy?

When to get advice

Most people infected with toxoplasmosis have no symptoms and don't know they’re infected. Contact your GP or midwife immediately if you think you may have come into contact with the toxoplasma parasite.

Read the answers to more questions about infections during pregnancy.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 03/05/2014

Next review due: 02/05/2016