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

Cat litter and cat faeces can contain a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis infection. 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

It’s therefore very important that 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
  • soil or cat litter containing infected cat faeces

Sheep can also carry the parasite.

Gardening, cats and sheep

  • wear gloves when you do the gardening (even if you don’t have a cat), in case the soil is contaminated with cat faeces
  • wash your hands and gloves thoroughly after gardening or handling soil.
  • avoid emptying cat litter trays when you’re pregnant. If you can’t get someone else to do it, wear disposable rubber gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards
  • if you have a cat, make sure its litter is changed every day. The litter tray should also be cleaned every day and filled with boiling water for five minutes
  • if you come into contact with cat faeces, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly
  • avoid close contact with sick cats
  • wash your hands thoroughly after handling cats
  • avoid lambing or milking ewes
  • avoid 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 handle 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:

  • Wash your hands before handling food.
  • Wash all fruit, vegetables and salads (including ready-prepared salads) thoroughly, to remove all traces of soil.
  • Make sure you cook raw meat thoroughly, until there is no trace of pink or blood.
  • Heat ready-prepared chilled meals until they’re piping hot all the way through. This is particularly important for meals that contain poultry, such as chicken or turkey.
  • After you handle or prepare raw meat, wash all surfaces and utensils, as well as your hands.
  • Keep leftovers covered in the fridge and use them within two days.
  • Avoid eating cured meats, such as salami and parma ham.
  • Don’t drink unpasteurised goats’ milk, and don’t eat products made from it, such as cheese.

When to get advice

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


NHS Choices

Published Date 2010-07-26

Last Review Date 2010-05-16 23

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