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Just because you are pregnant does not mean you have to find new homes for your beloved pets. Dogs and cats pose minimal health risks with proper training and hand washing. The same is true for reptiles and birds. Preparation and precaution is the key.

Pregnancy and Pets

Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association

You are an animal lover, just found out your pregnant and wondering what safety concerns there are regarding your special pet. Going straight to the pound may not have to be the answer! However, here are some things you need to consider for keeping yourself safe along with planning for a safe environment when your baby arrives.

What about pregnancy and your dog?

Overall, dogs do not pose any health risks for you and the developing baby while you are pregnant. The main concern during pregnancy involves larger dogs that might jump on your abdomen while you are lying down or sitting in the chair. The likelihood of any problem is extremely low, but if your dog is heavy and has the habit of jumping on you, it would be best to begin training him not to do that.

A second concern develops after the baby arrives. Approximately 80% of dog bites occur with children under the age of five. Young children are exploratory in nature and have the tendency to poke, pull hair, or crawl up behind and startle dogs. Unfortunately, your child's innocent exploration may elicit an involuntary response (i.e. snip or bite) from your dog.

Here are some helpful tips to help create a safer and happier environment for you, your baby and your precious dog:

  • Identify habits of your dog that may be a problem when the new baby arrives, and begin re-training now
  • Begin training your dog on the idea of a new baby in the house. Set-up routines that you will be doing later so that all the changes do not happen at once for your dog. Sometimes using a doll at the table or sitting in a seat can work.
  • Start training your dog on the difference between his toys and the baby's toys.
  • Believe it or not, your dog can get jealous of the attention directed at your new bay. Make sure you remember to pay some special attention to your dog too. Include your dog in some of the play with the baby.
  • Always monitor your child when he is around a dog
  • Never leave a dog alone with a child
  • Talk with your vet about helpful ways to introduce your dog and new baby

What about pregnancy and your cat?

The transmission of an infection called toxoplasmosis is the primary concern related to cats. Transmission occurs from contact with feline feces. Outdoor cats are more likely to have toxoplasmosis than cats that remain strictly indoors.

If a woman is immune to toxoplasmosis before pregnancy, then the baby is safe. Approximately one-third of women in the United States are immune to the infection, and the likelihood of immunity is higher for women who have owned cats for a long time.

The risk to the baby increases the later in the pregnancy the new infection is acquired. Exposure to a cat's feces will most commonly occur in the garden where cats bury their bowel movements or when you change the litter box. It is best to avoid changing the litter box because even the dust can create exposure.

Here are a few helpful hints for creating a safer environment during your pregnancy:

  • If you are a cat owner and you are considering getting pregnant, it would be beneficial to test for immunity of toxoplasmosis before you get pregnant (Immunity is determined by a simple blood test from your physician)
  • If you must do some gardening, wear gloves at all times
  • Avoid changing the litter box; have someone else do it
  • Do not leave your cat with your new baby unsupervised

Toxoplasmosis has serious risks for your baby which include: mental retardation, blindness, learning disabilities, still birth or pre-term birth. Inform your doctor that you are a cat owner. If you are infected while you are pregnant there is an antibiotic for reducing the likelihood that the baby will be infected.

What about pregnancy and your exotic reptile or amphibian?

Lizards, iguanas, turtles, frogs, snakes and other reptiles or amphibians make for intriguing pets, but there is a risk to you and your developing baby. Exposure to the feces of these pets opens the door to the transmission of the salmonella bacteria which can negatively affect your pregnancy.

The risk of transmission of the salmonella bacteria is an important concern for children under the age of five as well. Their immune systems are still developing and exposure to reptile feces puts the child's health at risk. Unfortunately, the safest course of action is to have a reptilian or amphibian pet removed from the house until your child reaches his fifth birthday.

If you decide to keep your pet, here are some helpful hints for creating a safer environment for you and your new baby:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with hot water following any handling of a reptile, amphibian or its cage
  • Do NOT allow reptiles or amphibians in the kitchen, on the counter, or near any other food preparation area
  • Do NOT use the kitchen sink to give the reptile a bath or to clean the cage. Ideally you should clean the cage outdoors, however if you use the bathtub, make sure you disinfect it with bleach
  • Do NOT allow a young child to handle the reptile, amphibian or to play with the cage
  • Do NOT let the reptile roam around the house

What about pregnancy and your pet bird?

If your bird is healthy then the expectation is that everything should be alright for you and your baby. Birds can transmit campylobacter, salmonella, chlamydiosis, or some protozoal infections that could be contagious to humans. A complete exam by your veterinarian can determine the health status of your bird.

Some birds, like cockatoos, are rather dusty. Running filters in your house can help remove the dust and dander from the air. This just makes for a cleaner environment for you, your family and the new baby.

Here are a few helpful hints for creating a safer environment during your pregnancy:

  • Inform your physician that you are pregnant and that you have a pet bird in the house
  • Take your bird to the veterinarian for a health exam; tell the vet that you are trying to conceive or if you are already pregnant
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with hot water following any handling the bird or its cage
  • Avoid changing the bird cage; have someone else do it
  • Caution for the bird: keep the bird away from talcum powder, baby lotion, safety pins, formula, aerosols, or dirty diapers which may all cause harm to the bird

What about pregnancy and farm animals?

Farm animals are known to carry listeria, campylobacter, salmonella, and cryptosporidium which may all cause problems for you and your developing baby. Removing yourself from the farm is not a likely solution; so here are a few helpful hints for creating a safer environment during your pregnancy:

  • Do NOT participate in silage feeding
  • Do NOT handle stillborn animals
  • Only drink pasteurized milk
  • Do NOT drink untreated water; if you are using a well, make sure that you boil it
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with hot water following any contact with farm animals or their living areas.
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