Pregnancy and Cat Litter: Everything You Need to Know

pregnant person holding cat


When it comes to pregnancy, you're probably familiar with some of the most common no-nos, i.e. you should nix alcohol, avoid high-mercury fish, and skip hot yoga. Others, however, may not be as obvious—and one of them involves your cat's bathroom habits.

Although not particularly enjoyable, cleaning your cat's litter box is an important daily task. But should you be the one doing it if you're pregnant? The concern may not even cross your mind (and who could blame you?), but it turns out, you may need to think twice before picking up the litter scoop.

Here, we'll look into the risks of cleaning a litter box during pregnancy, explain the effects of toxoplasmosis, and offer tips on how to protect yourself and your unborn baby from infection.

Is It Safe to Clean a Litter Box While Pregnant?

While precautions can be taken, it is generally recommended that pregnant people avoid cleaning cat litter, when possible. The reason? Cat feces can contain a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, leading to an infection called toxoplasmosis that can spread to humans.

Typically, outdoor cats are the culprits of a toxoplasmosis infection. Unlike indoor cats, they are more likely to eat rodents, birds, or small animals that are infected. That said, the Toxoplasma gondii parasite rarely causes disease in cats. They can shed the parasite through their waste (and into the litter), which becomes infective to others one to five days after it is passed.

What Are the Risks of Cat Litter During Pregnancy?

The biggest concern surrounding cat litter during pregnancy is becoming infected with toxoplasmosis. Both kittens and cats can shed millions of parasites from toxoplasmosis in their feces for up to three weeks after they become infected.

"If you get toxoplasmosis for the first time in pregnancy, the infection can pass across the placenta to the baby and can result in congenital toxoplasmosis," explains Andrea Chisholm, MD, a board-certified OB/GYN practicing at Cody Regional Health Rural Health Clinic and Review Board member for Verywell Family. "[This] can cause very serious neurologic complications including cerebral palsy, blindness, seizures, and stillbirth." 

She adds that the earlier in pregnancy an infection occurs, the greater the risk of complications for your unborn baby. While 70% to 90% of babies born with toxoplasmosis do not show any signs or symptoms at birth, serious complications can still occur in the following months and years, including vision problems, developmental delays, deafness, and a neurological disorder called hydrocephalus.

How Is Toxoplasmosis Spread?

According to Dr. Chisholm, "toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. In order to become transmissible, the parasite has to be able to complete its lifecycle and enter its infectious state. This only occurs in cats, both domestic and wild big cats like mountain lions and bobcats."

If you clean cat litter contaminated with Toxoplasma gondii and unintentionally touch your mouth, you could ingest the parasite, causing a toxoplasmosis infection. If you become infected during pregnancy, or just before you become pregnant, it can pass directly to the fetus.

"It is important to note that often the parasite can become airborne," says Dr. Chisholm. "You can become infected by breathing in the parasite, not just from ingesting it."

She emphasizes that Toxoplasma gondii is not just contained to your cat's litter. Toxoplasmosis can also be spread through the following:

  • Eating raw, cured, or undercooked meats such as chicken, pigs, goats, and lamb that have been infected with Toxoplasma gondii
  • Drinking or eating unpasteurized goat's milk or cheese
  • Eating raw oysters or clams that have been harvested from contaminated waters
  • Eating fruits and vegetables grown in contaminated soil or exposed to contaminated water

Is Toxoplasmosis Spread Through Breastfeeding?

Thankfully, the chances of toxoplasmosis being transmitted through breast milk are low. The CDC states that toxoplasmosis in infants has been linked to the consumption of unpasteurized goat’s milk, but there are no studies that show human breast milk transmission of the infection.

Toxoplasmosis Symptoms

Most of the time, in otherwise healthy kids and adults, Dr. Chisholm explains that toxoplasmosis has symptoms similar to the flu, including fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, and possibly a rash and/or enlarged lymph nodes.

However, as pointed out by Florencia Segura, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician at Einstein Pediatrics, many people show no symptoms at all. "Of those infected, very few have symptoms because a healthy person's immune system keeps it from causing illness," she says.

If you are concerned you may have been infected with toxoplasmosis, it is important to contact a doctor. They may recommend a blood test to check for antibodies to Toxoplasma gondii, and you may receive medication if an infection is diagnosed. You and your baby will also be closely monitored throughout the pregnancy and after birth.

Do I Have to Give Up My Cat If I Become Pregnant?

Good news—your kitty can stay!

"It is absolutely safe to keep a cat while you are pregnant," says Dr. Chisholm. That said, it's probably best not to adopt a new cat during pregnancy, especially a stray.

As for the cat litter? "The most cautious approach would be to have someone else clean your cat's litter box," says Dr. Chisholm. "However, if that isn't possible, wearing a mask that covers your mouth and nose, as well as wearing rubber gloves and then washing your hands, is an acceptable alternative."

What Are the Best Ways to Protect Myself—and My Baby—from Toxoplasmosis? 

Aside from avoiding cat litter, there are a few other ways to help protect yourself and your unborn baby from toxoplasmosis. One of the biggest ways is also one of the simplest—washing your hands.

"Strict hand hygiene after touching soil (i.e., gardening) is recommended, as is washing all fruits and vegetables since cat feces can contaminate the soil. Hand washing is the most important thing you can do to reduce transmission," explains Dr. Segura.

Other preventative measures, provided by Dr. Chisholm, include:

  • Taking precautions while changing your cat's litter box (or giving someone else the job)
  • Never eating undercooked or raw meat or seafood
  • Washing your hands, knives, cutting boards, and countertops after handling raw meat, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth before you wash your hands
  • Avoiding unpasteurized milk or milk products like cheese and yogurt
  • Never drinking unfiltered water

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stresses the importance of cooking certain foods, like meat and seafood, to the correct internal temperatures. Whole cuts of beef, veal, lamb, and pork (including fresh ham), and fish with fins should be cooked to 145°F. Ground meats such as beef and pork should reach 160°F, and all poultry, including ground chicken and turkey, should be cooked to 165°F.

A Word From Verywell

Toxoplasmosis can be dangerous to an unborn baby, but here's the good news: owning a cat does not mean you will become infected. (Especially if it is an indoor pet!) Moreover, cats do not carry the Toxoplasma parasite on their fur, meaning you are not likely to be exposed by petting them.

By keeping your cat inside and only feeding them dry or canned food (and never raw meat), the chances of them becoming infected are low. If no one else is able to clean the cat litter for you during pregnancy, always be sure to wear a mask and gloves, and wash your hands immediately after. You can also prevent toxoplasmosis infection during pregnancy by avoiding unpasteurized dairy products, unfiltered water, and raw or undercooked meat such as chicken, beef, and pork.

Most importantly, your furry feline friend can remain part of the family during pregnancy. (And odds are, they sensed you were pregnant before you did!) There's no need to send them away for nine months, especially if you are taking the proper safety precautions for yourself and your unborn baby. If you become concerned about toxoplasmosis, it's best to reach out to your doctor, who can help ensure you (and your cat) are doing everything needed to keep your pregnancy healthy.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Toxoplasmosis: An Important Message for Cat Owners.

  2. Cornell Feline Health Center. Toxoplasmosis in Cats.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Toxoplasmosis: Pregnancy FAQS.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Cats and Toxoplasmosis.

By Alex Vance
Alex Vance is a freelance writer covering topics ranging from pregnancy and parenting to health and wellness. She is a former news and features writer for and Blog Writer for The HOTH. Her motherhood-related pieces have been published on Scary Mommy, Motherhood Understood, and Thought Catalog.