Warning to Expectant Mother : Take Precautions to Guard Against Disease-Carrying Cats

Ericson, a practicing Orange County veterinarian, is incoming president of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Assn.

Q I am pregnant and have been told by a friend that I should avoid handling my cat because I may get an infection. What kind of infection is she talking about?

A Your friend is most likely referring to a disease called toxoplasmosis, which is a protozoan infection of both man and animals and is caused by an organism called Toxoplasma gondii . This single-cell organism can be found in the feces of infected cats, as well as in other mammals and birds. The disease can infect the human fetus, causing destructive lesions of the central nervous system, the eyes, and organs such as the liver, spleen and skin.

The infective oocytes of T. gondii are ingested, especially by herbivores such as rodents, and develop as cysts in the muscles and tissues. If a cat catches and eats one of these infected rodents, a mouse, for instance, the cat also will become infected, allowing the cysts to develop, and then shed the infective oocytes in its feces. Exposure to humans comes from handling the contaminated feces. It also should be noted that eating raw or undercooked contaminated meat is another common source of infection in people.

It is recommended that pregnant women not clean the litter box or work in gardens that cats frequently use for defecation, or at least wear protective rubber or latex gloves. Proper washing of the hands afterward, and especially after preparing or handling raw meat, is very important.


Do not allow your cat to eat mice or birds that he catches. You should have a stool sample from your cat examined by your veterinarian. Always consult your own physician for your own care.

Q When my dog comes into heat, how can I tell when to breed her and if she is pregnant?

A Your dog’s “heat” or estrous cycle basically has four phases and occurs, on the average, twice a year. The proestrous phase is the first phase, lasting from four to 12 days, and is noted when the vulva starts to enlarge and a bloody discharge develops. The second phase is estrus and also lasts from four to 12 days. The discharge in this phase changes to a clear to slightly yellow color, and this is the time when you should breed your dog. The metestrous and anestrous phases follow and are periods when your dog will show no interest in breeding.

Your veterinarian can do smears (cytology) on the vaginal cells and determine more accurately when your dog should be bred.


About four weeks after having your dog bred, an exam should be done by your veterinarian and your dog’s abdomen palpated to feel for any fetuses that may be developing. Even more accurately, a sonogram (or image produced by sound waves) can be done, especially if there is a question of whether your dog is pregnant. You should consult your veterinarian for pre- and post-natal care of your pet.

Got a question about your pet? Send it to Dr. Glenn Ericson, Ask the Vet, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626.