I was in the middle of a cardio workout when one of our cats, Zalo, randomly brushed himself against my legs, almost in a concerned manner, and certainly in a way I’d never seen before. The following days also saw him being extra affectionate towards me, very much unlike his usual reserved self.
Truthfully, it was the hints that I got from my feline friends that sent me to the doctor’s room for a pregnancy test on a Monday morning. Pets can sense pregnancy, they say. While perhaps more of a myth with no strong scientific proof, there may be some slight truth, possibly from how animals have heightened senses and are highly attuned to the little changes around them. And whatever little changes my cats saw in me that week, I did walk out of that doctor’s room with a positive pregnancy test.
And so began my journey in juggling the care of my much-treasured pregnancy and our much-loved pets.
My husband and I have been taking care of four noisy whiskered friends whom not only know how to drive us crazy, but also put a soothing end to our long working days. There are their perpetual screams for anything we’re having for dinner, and then there are their calming purrs and funny antics. We were also taking care of stray cats, fostering the more vulnerable ones until they were ready for adoption and feeding the rest.
Clearly, we’re both cat lovers who post a tad too many kitten photos on Instagram. And clearly, I’ve had a lot of contact with cats, both indoors and outdoors. But what did that mean to my then newly-discovered pregnancy?
With the much-talked-about risk of toxoplasmosis posed by cats towards pregnant women, I spent some time tangled with worry as I intently read through piles of pregnancy books and mercilessly bugged my gynaecologist with endless questions.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii that can be transmitted from cat feces. It is said that pregnant women can transmit toxoplasmosis to their fetuses, leading to miscarriages, stillbirths or certain malformations in the babies such as blindness or other neurological problems.
This knowledge is enough to send cat-loving pregnant women scurrying away with panic attacks. But I soon discovered that contracting toxoplasmosis isn’t as straight forward as having contact with cats. Cats initially get them from eating rodents, birds, or any form of contaminated raw meat or soil. They then excrete infectious oocysts (reproducing microorganisms) in their feces. These oocysts require an incubation period of one to five days before actually becoming infective. And for a person to contract them, the infective oocysts need to be directly ingested.
With these factors in mind, I performed a checklist to ensure zero or only minimal risks for me to ever contract the infection. While I still said “Hello” to the stray cats outside, I limited direct contact just to be safe. My main contact, which includes a lot of cuddling, is limited to our four buddies at home who are all indoor cats. They are not exposed to rodents, outdoor animals or contaminated soil. They go for regular (but dreaded) check-ups and vaccinations. We don’t feed them raw meat. Their litter boxes are cleaned daily before any possible oocysts, if any at all, can become infective. To minimise the risks further, my husband volunteered to clean their litter boxes. When required, or when he’s not around, I use gloves, wear a face mask and immediately wash my hands after cleaning their litter boxes. And because direct ingestion is required to contract the infection, I make sure I don’t find any reason to want to eat cat poo. Not so difficult, that one.
My antenatal check-ups have given me comfort in knowing our baby is well. My bloodwork result for toxoplasmosis was negative. The gynaecologist hasn’t been worried about me being all catwoman at home in the knowledge of all the precautions we’ve taken. If anything else, the cats’ soothing purrs provide great calming effects for those emotional days with pregnancy hormones flaring up.
With several weeks to go now, I think the cats are looking forward to the arrival of their new sibling whom they already sensed of from the beginning. We know we’re looking forward to a bigger family.
Azalia Suhaimi is a poet and a photographer who is currently enjoying the much-treasured pregnancy to her first child. She hopes to tell beautiful poetic stories to her children someday.