A recent column by pediatrician Dr. T. Berry Brazelton has caused quite a stir. Dr. Brazleton is apparently a very well known syndicated columnist, and he answered a question from a reader about her pregnant daughter and her cats. The reader was concerned about the cats lying on the baby. However, Dr. Brazleton focused on the risks of toxoplasmosis, which we’ve covered in previous posts and in a fact sheet in the Worms & Germs Resources page. He points out some valid facts and concerns regarding toxoplasmosis and prevention of this disease. However, he strayed off the logical, evidence-based trail with the statement "It would be better for the baby if your daughter would rid herself of the cats."
I am unaware of any medical, veterinary or public health group that advocates removal of pets from households with pregnant women. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically state that pregnant women do NOT need to get rid of their cats. Dr. Brazleton also stated "Some cats will seek out the infants’ mouths and noses and lie on them to smother them." While Dr. Brazleton may be well-versed in pediatrics, he apparently didn’t take the time to look into current evidence and recommendations in this regard. His statements are ill-informed and irresponsible.
One should never dismiss peoples’ concerns about disease or injury to babies from pets. The health of babies far superceeds concerns about pets. However, there are positive social and emotional aspects of pet ownership that similarly must not be ignored. There is simply no evidence that removing cats from households with pregnant women or infants is useful or necessary. The key is to consider basic (often common sense) infection control measures and proper animal management/training to reduce the risk of any adverse events.
Pet columnists have picked this article up and made various responses. One of the best I’ve seen is from Steve Dale. It provides some good basic information about why Dr. Brazleton’s advice is unsound.
Comprehensive information about toxoplasmosis, and reducing the risks of disease, can be found on the Worms & Gerns Resources page.
Image credit: http://homepages.cwi.nl/~steven/julian/choclet/choclet.html