Pets and Pregnancy

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MH finds out if your beloved pet may be harmful to you and if so, what changes to make so that Mr Whiskers does not need to be booted out!

WORDS CINDY LIM

Pet lover Shireen Tan, 26, is expecting her first child. She is both ecstatic and worried at the same time. “I have two lovely pets—a cat and a dog—who have been with me for years. I’m worried that they might pose health risks to my foetus or myself during my pregnancy but yet I can’t bear to be apart from them,” bemoans Shireen.   
    
Shireen’s fears are not unfounded. Pets are a bundle of joy to have around and many regard them as part of the family. However, when you are expecting, not all animals are safe to be around.

Pregnant women have to be cautious about the kinds of pets they keep
and know how to handle and care for them safely.

Parasites and Viruses
Pets tend to carry parasites and viruses. Toxoplasmosis, in particular, is a cause for concern. It is a parasite that cats and other animals can carry and excrete in their faeces, Toxoplasmosis can cause birth defects in the first trimester or place the pregnant mother at risk for premature labour or stillbirth.
    
“The primary concern will be with regards to the possible spread of infections to humans from animals and its impact on the developing foetus,” explains Dr Cordelia Han, specialist in obstetrics & gynaecology, consultant, Raffles Women’s Centre.
    
“It is possible for individuals to develop immunity against this parasite if you have had pets for a long time as you may have been exposed to the infection. You can screen for immunity by doing a blood test. The ideal time to do this is before pregnancy. Once pregnant, you will have to discuss with your doctor to see if there is a need for regular screening. Unfortunately, there is no vaccination available against Toxoplasmosis.”
    
As such, changing the litter box while pregnant is a big no-no. Someone else should be in charge of kitty poop duty during this time so that the pregnant mother is not exposed to the parasite. Toxoplasmosis is also in the soil and in undercooked meats. So as a general rule, wash your hands often, especially before and after food preparation and gardening.
    
Rodents like hamsters and guinea pigs are common household pets but they may carry a virus called lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (also called LCMV) that can be harmful to you and your baby.
    
According to Dr Han, LCMV can cause severe birth defects and miscarriage. “LCMV can be passed from an infected animal to you from a bite; by touching an infected animal’s urine, blood, saliva, droppings or nesting materials; by breathing in dust or droplets when sweeping up droppings or cleaning out a cage.
    
Other infections like Campylobacter and Salmonella are carried by birds and turtles. It will be prudent to take such pets to the veterinarian to check for such infections as well as inform your doctor if you have a pet bird in the house.

Ruff Behaviour
Although affectionate, pets can sometimes exhibit rough or unpredictable behaviour. We would not want to risk injury to the belly if your dog or cat gets really excited while playing. If your pet is frisky and likes to jump on your abdomen while you are lying down or sitting, it would be a good idea to start training him not to do it. Also, ensure that there is someone around you to distract the animal’s affection if it gets too energetic to handle.

Claws and Effect
Beware of the bites and scratches of your pets. While not as harmful as parasites like Toxoplasmosis, saliva from a cat or dog may contain organisms that cause illness if they penetrate the skin or come in contact with the mucous membranes of the face. These can cause skin infections and flu-like symptoms such as fever and chills. Bartonella henselae and rabies are examples of dangerous saliva-borne germs or bacteria.  
    
“Once bitten by any animal, it is advisable to see a doctor for a tetanus toxoid injection as well as to dress any open wound immediately with antiseptic wash,” advises Dr Han.
    
So pet lovers like Shireen can rejoice. You being pregnant does not mean that Mr Whiskers has to be banned from the house. By employing more cautious pet handling methods and delegating some pet care duty to family members, you should still be able to cohabit paws-itively together with your pet.

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pets and pregnancy
Thanks for sharing!