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On Animals, Pregnancy and Parenting

This unbelievable article in the Palm Beach Post, by one Dr. Berry Brazelton, advises a grandmother-to-be that: "It would be better for the baby if your daughter would rid herself of [her] cats. If not, the cats must be kept away from the child for the infant's protection." (Because of the potential for toxoplasmosis and because "Some cats will seek out the infants' mouths and noses and lie on them to smother them.")

The columnist can be reached at and the editor of the Palm Beach Post can be sent a letter through their site with this form.

This wouldn't be so alarming if I didn't personally experience that people do believe cats are life threatening and will actually give their cats away after becoming pregnant. Yes, it's time for your partner to take over litter box duties if you get pregnant, or to use gloves and wash your hands often, but all of this hysteria over the jealousy of cats and the dangers they pose is irresponsible.

I must confess that I don't know one cat-owned woman–not one–(and you know I asked) who handed the litter box duties over to her husband or partner or who even owned litter-box gloves, and none had problems (and all but one had children, and there was that one that gave her cats away–to a loving home). But that's all anecdotal. What I want to see is Brazelton's evidence for the significant danger of cats in the home simultaneous with baby humans.

We should be teaching our children that when we adopt a "pet," we do so for their entire life. Whether they start peeing in the house after they were house trained, or somebody gets pregnant, we work with the animal (who was there first–I'm just saying . . .), not against her.

Also, I have seen people have several children, and when they do, they feel terrible that their animals aren't getting the attention they used to get, so they give the animals away! (Hence the well-trained senior dogs in shelters.)

What we need, I suppose, is education that must take place prior to the adoption of an animal that discusses the future plans of the adopter and how the animal will fit into the family. For instance, we will not get another cat or dog because we might become the parents of a human child and I personally think that caring for 2 people, 2 large dogs and one cat is my limit without anyone being neglected. Any more than that and I'd need to outsource some of what I do. And that's fine for things like housekeeping and shopping and cooking, but it's not fine for spending time and caring for human or nonhuman animals.

Though we desperately want to find homes for homeless cats and dogs, the thorny question is: Is it better to have a home for a little while, or even years, and then be homeless again and perhaps killed, or do we want only people who can care for an animal for her entire life to be able to adopt her, which is an unrealistic expectation? (Of course, vegans aren't unacquainted with such things.)

What are your thoughts?

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh – this strikes a nerve… 25 years ago a (once) friend of mine, after putting her husband through law school, decided to start a family. They had two siamese cats – "Wedding gifts" to each other. They were pampered pets. The woman was fond of distributing photos of her "babies". Well, when she got news she was pregnant – she put the two (healthy, young) angels to "sleep". Needless to say, she hasn't been on my Christmas card list since.

    I see often many young couples who opt for kids eventually relegate the dog to outside confines too… Apparently the cute little puppy once grown, becomes passe' and takes a back seat to the new human darlings. It's very sad.

    And I always can't help but wonder about these new mothers that are rightfully concerned with the health of their infants… Will they be breastfeeding their child?

    According to the CDC

    "The longer your baby is breastfed, the greater the benefit".
    Here are some important reasons to breastfeed your baby…
    Less risk your child will be overweight
    Fewer ear infections
    Fewer respiratory infections
    Potential protection against SIDS
    Less risk of type 2 diabetes for your child and for mom

    The fallacy of SIDS is also linked to household cats – That whole breath-sucking theory is a myth based on 1700's superstitions:

    And as far as toxoplasmosis is concerned… A human (pregnant or not) is more likely to get toxoplasmosis through: Ingestion of raw or partly cooked meat, especially pork, lamb, or venison containing Toxoplasma cysts. Or after (improperly) handling undercooked meat, or from using knives, utensils, or cutting boards contaminated by raw meat.

    Cat faeces is an easily avoidable (secondary) source of contamination.

    So really, if this woman (or any parent) is indeed truly concerned with the health & wellbeing of their infant – they should keep the cat(s) and Go Vegan.

    January 14, 2009
  2. D.R. #

    I have encountered countless people wanting to "get rid of" their pets in the past few months. I have found this to be emotionally devastating. Only one person expressed on the phone a genuine concern over the actual animal: she wanted to find another home for a pet because it was stressed out by her other animals. Otherwise, it's been people giving all kinds of stupid excuses, or no excuses at all.

    Pet ownership is a huge responsibility, and I wonder if anyone knows what they are getting into? Though I love my dogs with all of my heart, it's painfully obvious the ways in which humans are ill-equipped to provide for the myriad needs of non-human animals. I just do my best. And, no, I don't think it's unrealistic to expect a human to adopt an animal and be expected to care for said animal for the rest of her life. I believe that's the commitment every pet owner should be expected to make. Plus, the cost of pet ownership should be emphasized, if not overemphasized. I can't bear to hear one more person claim that they didn't expect it to cost so much.

    January 14, 2009
  3. My husband has has cat box duties our entire marriage for exactly this reason! 🙂

    January 14, 2009
  4. Anna C #

    This has really hit a nerve too. We have dogs and cats- all rescue animals, and we are about start a family. The number of people who have advised me to get rid of our cats has been astonishing. Absolutely not. One cat DOES like to sleep on my or my husband's face…… I think she likes the closeness and the warmth. We have come up with a fairly simple plan- we will have what amounts to a closed-in cradle, which has a mesh top. Of course, the other plan is to keep the nursery door closed, but that will inevitably not happen on one or two occasions. There are cradles you can buy in the UK at least that have this kind of contraption, which have been made because of cats. Simple really.

    I agree, that when you take ask an animal to share you life, your obligation is to provide it with time, and respect. I too know of people who have disposed of animals when they become inconvenient. Most recently my sister-in-law had her dog put to sleep because as it got older it got some skin irritations and became ‘smelly’. She had had this dog for 12 years, but said she could no longer live with that. I find that despicable.

    January 15, 2009
  5. Anna C – I think you have a good plan there – keeping your cats and still protecting your child. It can be done – it just takes a bit of care and ingenuity.

    So sorry about your sister-in-law's thoughtless decision.
    I agree, it's despicable.

    January 15, 2009
  6. My sister made her husband clean the litter box after she became pregnant. But they kept their three cats and one dog. Their daughter, my niece, is now an intelligent, cute 3-year-old.

    January 15, 2009

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