Dr Mαριαλένα Κυριακάκου, MD, PhD,
Παιδίατρος - Αθήνα, Ιλίσια

[email protected]

+30 210 7211 078

+30 6947 900 277

Domestic cats and kids: myths about living together and the truth!

A frequent topic of concern for parents is adopting a cat as a pet because on the one hand children want a friend. And on the other there are so many wrong myths and scaremongering about cats living with children, that parents are led to fear and hesitation.

In any case, the first thing that needs to be clarified is that children are not in any danger by cats (even stray cats) unless the cats are infected and the children touch the cats’ feces with their bare hands and then put them in their mouth.

The reasons cats and kids living together at home can cause fear to their parents are the supposed risks they can hide as parasites carriers, such as toxoplasma. Toxoplasmosis is caused by the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Within the human body the parasite’s cysts are created, inside which the parasite survives throughout the life of the individual.

In general, toxoplasmosis usually does not have to do with domestic cats and kids, as it is particularly dangerous only for pregnant women since it can lead to abortion in the second or third month of pregnancy or cause severe genetic defects in fetal tissues. With proper precautions however, even a pregnant woman is not in danger of being infected if basic hygiene rules are followed, caution is given to cat food and their litter box is cleaned every 2 days.

The risk of infection for a pregnant woman is quite small and only under certain conditions can she be exposed, such as: cleaning the cat’s litter box with bare hands, having open wounds on the skin and then touch the cat’s feces with bare hands, provided of course that the cat is infected. For this reason, there is no particular reason to be concerned about domestic cats that live under all the necessary protective measures and under no circumstances is it necessary to remove them from home during pregnancy.

However, if toxoplasmosis is diagnosed early and appropriate treatment is administered, the probability of fetal infection is significantly reduced. Toxoplasmosis has flu-like symptoms that wear off within a few weeks. The medication may include pyrimethamine, sulfadiazine, folinic acid and is effective only during the acute phase of toxoplasmosis or during its resurgence.

An extremely interesting point that’s worth highlighted is the way of transmission of toxoplasmosis, as cats are not its original source, which means that cats and kids are perfectly safe to coexist. The main way of toxoplasmosis’s transmission to humans is through consumption of toxoplasm cysts, by eating raw or half-grilled meat, such as meals ready to eat, such as souvlaki, gyro food etc.

In addition, a person may get toxoplasmosis through consumption of mature toxoplasm oocysts, by eating washed or incompletely washed fruits, vegetables, greens etc., over which some infected mouse may had passed before they were collected from the earth. In addition, toxoplasma merozoites found in the blood of a pregnant woman and breast milk of the nursing mother could be transmitted and infect the fetus or the newborn, respectively.

Therefore, the occurrence of toxoplasmosis is not directly related to cats and kids, as feline meat is not included in the dietary choices of people in our country. However, cats and some other felines are animals in which the parasite can complete its life cycle in the animal’s intestinal system. In case a cat consumes raw meat however, such as a mouse for example, it can be infected and then with its feces spread toxoplasm’s immature oocysts in the environment within 2-20 days.

Depending on the temperature and humidity of the environment, immature oocysts will mature within 2-4 days of defecation, so no one can be infected with fresh feline feces. It is critical, however, to clarify one thing: only toxoplasm’s mature oocysts can infect a living organism; not immature ones.

In conclusion, cats and kids can coexist safely, as it is rare for a child to become infected by toxoplasmosis: domestic cats are unlikely to be infected with toxoplasma, since they consume dry food rather than raw meat such as mice. In any case, however, strict personal hygiene measures must be followed to avoid the risk of infection. It is advisable to consume well-cooked meat and, as with other infections, the benches and kitchenware used to handle raw meat should be thoroughly cleaned and washed.

Fruits and vegetables should be adequately washed and the milk consumed should be boiled or pasteurized. When there is a domestic cat her litter box should be cleaned every 1-2 days using gloves instead of bare hands in case the cat is allowed outside the house, because then no one can know what they have consumed.

For cats that live exclusively in the house and consume dry food or special canned food, there is no risk of toxoplasma infection. Additionally, in case meat is included in its diet, it should be boiled or frozen. Playing between cats and children can be entertaining and offer many moments of laughter and joy. In the end, however, children should wash their hands with water and soap, and it is essential that cats are taken to the vet regularly and the necessary vaccination program is strictly adhered to.

To sum up, contact of children with animals has been scientifically proven to help improvement and smooth development both at the mental and physical levels. Presence of a pet helps strengthening the child’s immune system, reducing the likelihood of allergy and asthma, and also offers a good opportunity to exercise, move and avoid childhood obesity.

At the same time, a child can find a true friend, as cats and kids can develop emotional ties, limit his sense of insecurity, and understand the notions of social liability and responsibility. So, a cat is an excellent choice as a pet, since if proper hygiene measures are followed, children cannot be infected. Proper information from the pediatrician will help parents understand all possible scenarios of danger and quietly enforce all the necessary protective measures so that the whole family can live calmly and nicely with the cat.

 

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