Pets and Pregnancy

Pet safety around dogs, cats, horses, and other animals

Pets are wonderful. They’re fun, provide companionship, and give plenty of love. It’s no wonder that pets are an important part of so many families, and so many women have "fur babies" or other types of pets before they begin to have human children. But, along with all the joy, there are a few concerns since some pets pose potential safety and health risks. So, when it’s time to think about adding children to your family, you may be wondering if it’s safe to be around your pet while you’re pregnant. Here’s what you need to know about how different types of pets can affect your pregnancy and your new baby.

pets and pregnancy
 Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Zoonotic Diseases

A zoonotic disease is an illness that an animal can give to a human. Different animals have different germs that they can pass on to make people sick.

Thankfully, it’s rare to get a serious illness from a pet. If you are a responsible pet parent who cares for your pet properly, then the chances of catching something from your pet are low. You are more likely to pick up something from a wild animal or an animal that you don’t know. 

Some zoonotic diseases are mild and easily treated, but some can be dangerous especially for children, those with a weak immune system, and pregnant women. Here are a few of the infections animals can pass to humans. 

Salmonellosis

Salmonellosis is a bacterial infection from salmonella. When you think of salmonella, you may think of food poisoning. And, yes, you can get it from food, but you can also get it from your pets. Salmonella causes fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. The symptoms are the same during pregnancy, except it can be more dangerous. Diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration, and although it’s rare, salmonellosis can cause a blood infection (bacteremia) or meningitis. Pregnant moms can also pass the bacteria to the baby.

Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is a common infection from a parasite. It is usually not dangerous unless you get it for the first time while you’re pregnant or just before your pregnancy. Even then, the chances are low that it will affect your baby. It is rare, but if toxoplasmosis does pass to the baby in early pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or congenital disabilities.

Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis

Lymphocytic choriomeningitis is an illness caused by the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). LCMV is mostly spread by wild mice, but pet rodents can also carry the infection. Mild LCMV can cause flu-like symptoms, and most people get better without any problems. However, if it's severe, LCVM can cause neurological issues such as meningitis or paralysis. During pregnancy, the virus can pass to the baby, and it can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or congenital abnormalities

Rabies

A rabies infection spreads through the saliva of an animal who has the rabies virus. An animal with rabies can give it to another animal or a human. It starts with symptoms such as fever, chills, and muscle weakness. Then, it begins to affect the brain causing confusion, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. After being in contact with rabies, it can take one week or more for the symptoms to appear. It is essential to get treatment right away. So, if a dog or a wild animal such as a raccoon or bat bites you while you’re pregnant or at any other time, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Rabies can be treated with anti-rabies shots to stop the virus before the symptoms start, and the treatment is considered safe for pregnant and breastfeeding moms. However, without timely treatment, rabies is deadly. 

Lyme disease

Lyme disease comes from a bacteria spread through the bite of an infected deer tick (black-legged tick). It may start as a flu-like illness with a rash that looks like a bulls-eye or a target. It can also cause joint pain, fatigue, and muscle weakness. Doctors can successfully treat with antibiotics, but some people continue to have symptoms for a long time after. Since ticks can hitch a ride on animals, your pets can put you at risk for Lyme disease if they spend time in an area where deer ticks roam. Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics, and treatment is safe during pregnancy. However, studies show that without treatment, it could be dangerous for you and your child. 

Other Safety Concerns

There's more than just illness and disease to consider. Pets can also scratch, bite, and cause physical harm to you or your new baby. Most of the time it's accidental, but pets can become jealous or aggressive. Here's a list of the some of the most common pet concerns along with information and tips to help keep you, your pet, and your baby healthy and safe

Dogs

It is generally safe for pregnant moms and newborn babies to be around dogs. If your pet dog is healthy and up-to-date on his vaccinations, caring for your dog should not cause any problems for you during your pregnancy. Of course, safety around dogs depends on the dog. Large dogs, untrained dogs, unfriendly dogs, stray dogs, or unfamiliar dogs could pose a risk to anyone especially a pregnant mother or young child. To keep yourself and your baby safe around dogs you can:

  • Make sure your pet dog sees the vet for regular check-ups and vaccinations. 
  • Be careful around large dogs even if they are friendly. Big dogs can jump, and they can accidentally knock you down, jump on your belly, or hurt you while you’re pregnant or holding your newborn. 
  • Sign your dog up for training classes if he or she is prone to erratic behavior.
  • Watch for any behavior changes in your dog. Some dogs can become jealous or territorial. They may get upset if their human mom is giving attention to a new baby.
  • Try to prevent dog bites by being careful around dogs you do not know, and paying attention to your dog's behavioral cues once you bring your baby home.
  • Protect yourself, your family and your dog from ticks and tick bites. 

Cats

It is generally safe to have a cat while you're pregnant, too. Like dogs, you have to watch out for bites, scratches, and ticks. But with cats, you also have to be careful about dealing with cat poop. Cat feces can contain the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. You can get it into your body by touching infected poop then touching your mouth.

While toxoplasmosis is a fairly common infection, it is uncommon to get it while you're pregnant and have it affect your pregnancy or baby. If you've been around cats for a while, chances are you've already been exposed and are now immune to it. Once you've had it, you won't get it again. But, not all cats have the parasite. Indoor cats rarely get toxoplasmosis, but outdoor cats can get it from the ground where other cats or prey animals go to the bathroom. When cats pick up the infection, they shed it for about six weeks. 

The chances of getting toxoplasmosis or any other illness from your cat are low, but it's always best to be safe. Here are some tips to prevent exposure. 

  • Wash your hands often. 
  • See if you can get someone else to clean and change the cat litter box.
  • Avoid feeding your cat raw meats which are more likely to contain the parasite.
  • When you're outside, try not to touch sand or soil that cats may have used as their bathroom. 
  • You can cover outdoor sandboxes to prevent your cat or other cats from using it as a litter box. 
  • If you are the one who has to change the litter or work in the garden, you can wear disposable gloves. Throw them away after you use them. 
  • Keep the litter box clean by changing it every day. It takes one to five days for toxoplasmosis to become infectious, so get rid of the cat poop right away before it becomes a danger. 
  • See the vet regularly for check-ups and vaccinations. 
  • The vet can test your cat for toxoplasmosis. Your doctor can also check to see if you've been exposed to the parasite. 

Fish

Pet fish do not usually cause any problems for pregnant women. It is rare for someone to get sick from a pet fish. But, just like everything else, you have to take good care of your fish and their tank to keep them and you healthy. Here are some tips for caring for your pet fish during pregnancy.

  • Always wash your hands after feeding your fish, or coming in contact with the water or equipment. 
  • Wear gloves when cleaning out the tank especially if you have any cuts on your hands. If it’s possible, have someone else clean the tank. 
  • Different types of fish have different needs. To keep your fish healthy and the water in the tank safe, make sure you have the right tank, equipment, supplies, and food for your fish. 
  • If you notice a sick or dead fish, remove it as soon as possible. Remember to wear gloves or have someone else do it. 

Most pet fish are not dangerous and do not bite. However, a more experienced fish owner may have larger or more dangerous fish. Always be careful when caring for fish that could harm you, especially poisonous fish. If your fish bites you, stings you, or scratches you, clean the wound and call the doctor. If the fish is poisonous, go directly to the emergency room. 

Ferrets

Ferrets tend to be fun and friendly pets, and they are typically not dangerous. Having a pet ferret isn’t much different than having a dog or cat. Although, you want to be extra cautious when you’re pregnant or have a young child. During pregnancy, there may be a slight risk of toxoplasmosis from ferret poop. However, it’s rare if the ferret is an indoor animal and it doesn’t eat raw meat. After your child is born, you want to supervise any interactions between the ferret and the baby.

A healthy ferret needs the right size cage, the right food, and time to roam and play outside the cage. When outside the cage, be sure to watch your ferret and keep it out of the kitchen. By caring for your pet well and taking some precautions, you can ensure the safety of your family and your ferret. 

When caring for your ferret, you should: 

  • Wash your hands after you pet or handle your ferret.
  • Have someone else clean the cage if possible.
  • Wear gloves if you have to clean the cage or come in contact with your pet’s poop.
  • Go to the vet for regular health check-ups.
  • Try to avoid fleas and ticks.
  • Be careful if you or your ferret is sick. Ferrets can get the flu and give it humans. If your ferret is sick take him to the veterinarian. 
  • Watch your ferret carefully around your new baby and don’t leave them alone together.
  • If your ferret scratches or bites you or your child, clean the area and call the doctor.  

Rodents and Rabbits

Many families have small pet mammals such as mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, chinchillas, or rabbits. These pets are fun and easy to care for, but they can carry certain bacteria and other organisms including LCMV that they can pass on to their human family members. 

The best way to prevent any problems is to practice good hygiene and know how to care for your pet correctly.

  • Always wash your hands after touching your pets, their cage, bedding, food dishes, and toys.  
  • If you can, have someone else clean the cage and care for your pet. Wear gloves if you have to clean it yourself.
  • Avoid cleaning the cage in the kitchen. If it's possible, wash the cage outside. If it has to be inside, do it in the bathroom then thoroughly wash the bathroom. 
  • Don't play with or bring small mammals into the kitchen. Keep them away from anywhere you store or prepare food. 
  • Don't kiss your pet or hold your pet near your face. 
  • If you have other children, watch them carefully when they are around these types of pets and make sure they wash their hands after touching them. 

Reptiles and Amphibians

Lizards, turtles, snakes, frogs, and salamanders are common pets in the tanks and aquariums of many homes. These pets can carry salmonella which is normally found on healthy reptiles and amphibians. It doesn’t make them sick, but it can make you sick. Salmonella is dangerous for pregnant women and young children.  

  • If possible, have someone else care for your pet and clean the cage or tank while you’re pregnant. 
  • Reptiles and amphibians need to see the doctor, too. Take your pet to the veterinarian for regular check-ups to keep it in good health. 
  • If you do touch your pet, wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
  • Supervise young children around reptiles and amphibians and be sure they wash their hands after handling these pets. 
  • Keep these types of pets away from the kitchen, and anywhere you store or prepare food. 
  • If a turtle, snake, lizard or frog bites you, you should wash the area and have a doctor check it out.
  • If you get bit by a pet that has venom or any other toxin, go to the emergency room immediately. 

Horses

In general, experts do not recommend horseback riding while you're pregnant. The problem isn't the movement. It's that you're more likely to get a serious injury to your body or your belly if you fall or are thrown off. However, if you are a very experienced rider, you can talk to your doctor about continuing to ride during early pregnancy or for part of your pregnancy. Of course, there is still a risk for injury even when you know what you're doing and have been doing it a long time. 

Of course, even if you have to stop riding, you can continue to spend time with and care for your pet horses during your pregnancy. For the most part, horses are safe and rarely spread infections to humans. Still, any animal can appear healthy and carry certain illnesses. Healthy animals can also catch diseases from other animals either domesticated or wild. Some concerns with horses are Lyme disease, salmonella, ringworm, and a few other diseases.

To protect yourself from getting sick:  

  • Wash your hands after feeding, petting, or grooming your horse. 
  • Wash your hands after cleaning the stall. 
  • Keep up with your horse's veterinary care to maintain good health.
  • Check your horse for ticks each day.
  • Wear a safe tick repellent when working in an area with ticks.
  • Check yourself for ticks after you return from caring for your horse. 
  • Reduce the tick population near your horse by cutting tall grass and getting rid of rodents.

Horses can cause injuries even when you aren't riding them. They can bite and kick, so always be careful and aware of your surroundings. See the doctor right away if you suffer an injury from your horse.

Dangerous Exotic Animals 

Some animals are quite dangerous. There are venomous snakes, poisonous frogs, scorpions, alligators, big cats, chimpanzees and monkeys, and many others. Throughout the world, people seek out these creatures as exotic pets. But, you can come upon an unsafe pet on accident, too. You should be especially careful if you find one of these animals in the wild and take it in.

Owning a dangerous pet is not recommended at any time, especially during pregnancy or if you have a young child. And, depending on the pet, it could also be against the law. If you do have one, you should be extremely careful during your pregnancy and with your new baby.

Dealing With Animal Bites

Most animal bites come from pets or animals that you or your child know. Whether the animal is just playing or becomes aggressive, an animal bite can be serious.

Bites are concerning when the animal is not vaccinated or when they break the skin. Unvaccinated animals and broken skin can lead to severe infections. Bites can also cause disfigurement and injury to the body, especially the face. 

If an animal bites you or your baby:

  • Find out about the animal’s health and vaccinations, if possible.
  • Take the animal to be tested right away if you do not know its health record.  
  • If the wound is minor, you can stop the bleeding, clean it with soap and water and call the doctor for instructions.
  • If the wound is severe, go to the doctor or emergency room right away. 

How to Prepare Your Pets for a New Baby 

Pets need time to adjust to a new arrival in their home. They may be scared of the baby or jealous of the attention the child is getting. If you put up a barrier to keep them in one place, they may not understand why they are being separated from you by a door or gate and not allowed to go to areas of the house they once freely roamed. These changes in your family and home affect your pet, but there are some things you can do to help your pet get ready for what's coming and transition to the changes more smoothly.

  • Little by little before your baby arrives, you can have your pet get used to the leash or the room they will be spending more time in.
  • Once the baby is born, send a shirt or blanket with the baby's smell on it home to the animals.
  • If your pet's temperament allows, let him stay in the room with the family. Just don't leave your newborn alone with your animals unsupervised. 
  • Don't forget to give your pet some extra affection once your home with your new baby. Your pet still needs love and attention. 
  • If you have any questions or concerns about helping your pets adjust to the new family situation, talk to the vet or your doctor for more information. 

A Word From Verywell

Once you learn you're expecting, it's probably not the best time to adopt a new kitten or puppy. But, you can certainly still enjoy the pets you already have. There are so many positive reasons to have them. Plus, the responsibility that comes along with pet parenting is an excellent introductory course for human parenting.  

Any pet can be dangerous or safe during pregnancy. It all depends on the type of animal, it's temperament, how you care for it, and your knowledge of the potential risks it can pose to you, your pregnancy, and your new baby. Pets do carry some diseases and can pass them to humans. But, with the right care and good hygiene, it's rare to catch a dangerous illness from a pet.  

Many, many women have pets throughout pregnancy without any problems. By learning more about how to safely have pets during pregnancy and around young children, you can plan, prepare, and recruit helpers to keep your pets well cared for while you keep yourself and your new baby healthy and safe. Preparing in advance for your pregnancy and the arrival of your new baby is being a good pet parent and a good human parent.  

For more information or if you have any questions about caring for your pet during your pregnancy, you can talk to your doctor or the veterinarian. 

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