How do pets impact your life?

More than 2 in every 3 U.S. households own one or more pets. There is no doubt that pets bring unyielding joy to a person's life. Studies show that people who own pets are happier and healthier.

There are many benefits to owning a pet including companionship, improved emotional well-being reduced stress response, positive effects on anxiety levels. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) reports that studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners. Some of the health benefits of having a pet include decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness, while pets also help promote increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities, and socialization.

What are some risks from pets during pregnancy?

While there are many benefits that pets bring into our lives, there are sometimes certain health hazards that come along with them. For example, as your belly grows, a larger pet can unwittingly knock you over. They can also carry germs that make people sick. Certain animals can carry bacteria or parasites that can be transferred to humans.

The CDC reports several outbreaks of pet-related diseases every year. Pregnancy comes with its own issues as there are two people involved, mother and fetus.

How can cats affect pregnancy?

The biggest risk with cats is getting infected with toxoplasmosis which affects the pregnant woman and can be transmitted to the fetus. Cats become infected with Toxoplasma by eating infected rodents, birds, or other small animals. Once cats become infected, they can pass millions of parasites in their feces for as long as 3 weeks after infection. Cats and kittens prefer litter boxes, garden soils, and sandboxes for elimination, and you may be exposed unintentionally by:

  • touching your mouth after changing a litter box, or
  • inhaling dry feces from the litter box
  • while gardening without gloves
  • eating infected fruits and vegetables if they are not cooked, washed, or peeled.

Here are some helpful tips to reduce your risk of environmental exposure to Toxoplasma.

  • Avoid changing cat litter if possible. If no one else can perform the task, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands with soap and water afterward.
  • Ensure that the cat litter box is changed daily. The Toxoplasma parasite does not become infectious until 1 to 5 days after it is shed in a cat’s feces.
  • Feed your cat commercial dry or canned food, not raw or undercooked meats.
  • Keep cats indoors.
  • Avoid stray cats, especially kittens. Do not get a new cat while you are pregnant.
  • Keep outdoor sandboxes covered.
  • Wear gloves when gardening and during contact with soil or sand because it might be contaminated with cat feces that contain Toxoplasma. Wash hands with soap and water after gardening or contact with soil or sand.

Can dogs impact pregnancy?

One risk of having a dog during pregnancy is that many pregnant women may already have problems with gait and stability, and they can get knocked over by their pets, fall, and get injured. During pregnancy, especially during the third trimester, your uterus is so large and protruding that you may have difficulties seeing below you. However, most pregnant women have come to know their dog's habits and can prevent most accidents. When walking your dog becomes too much, especially if your dog is unruly, it helps to enlist your partner to take over holding the leash while you walk beside them. You can also hire a dog walker.

What risks do reptiles and amphibians pose?

The major risk that comes with owning reptiles and amphibians, like frogs, snakes, turtles, salamanders, lizards, and others, is that these types of animals carry germs including bacteria, viruses, and parasites, which can pose serious health threats when transmitted to people. The most common germ carried by amphibians (such as frogs and salamanders) and reptiles (such as snakes and turtles) is Salmonella. Reptiles and amphibians shed Salmonella and various other germs in their stool even when they seem healthy. Salmonella can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and fever, and also lead to severe diarrhea and dehydration. It may become life-threatening, especially for young children and people with weakened immune systems (such as from cancer or HIV infection). The CDC reports that approximately 74,000 people in the U.S. acquire a Salmonella infection from reptiles and amphibians each year.

Are small mammals such as rodents safe during pregnancy?

Rodents such as hamsters, guinea pigs, and mice can carry a virus called lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV), an infection that can cause severe birth defects and miscarriage. So if you’ve got a rodent at home, avoid cleaning its cage, and don’t touch its saliva, urine, blood, or droppings. Some moms-to-be put cages in a guest room or somewhere else they don’t spend much time in while they’re expecting.

What about contact with farm animals?

If you live on a farm, you are likely interacting with and touching cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and chickens. These animals set their own set of germs which can make people sick. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that pass from animals to humans, and according to the CDC, they can cause a variety of illnesses, from minor skin rashes to serious infections. You must practice extreme care when touching any of these animals and wash hands thoroughly every single time you touch one of them or their cages/pens and food.

Read More:
Pets May Benefit Your Baby During Pregnancy
How-To Newborn Guide
Breastfeeding Guide