The bond between pet owners and their pets and even that of those who care for livestock and those animals is very real and emotionally compelling. But for a woman whose pregnancy has just become her first and greatest priority caring for pets or livestock takes on new dimensions of risk previously not present. It’s very important to discuss this with the physician or team responsible for caring for the mother during pregnancy and after delivery as well as the intended pediatrician. Here are some basic cautionary recommendations for women in this situation.
In terms of pet or livestock related risks during pregnancy there is one essential thing to be aware of. Before the baby is born the greatest risk to the health of baby and mother are infections which can be contracted by coming into contact with anything contaminated by animal fecal matter. Everything that comes in contact with animals feces including water run off into wells can be a source of dangerous infections. Farms or rural homes with well water may be at risk and should be checked for the presence of microbes and viruses. Pets including dogs, cats, and more exotic animals can often carry contagions that are known to be very harmful during a baby’s development. These specific risks should be discussed in detail with available healthcare professionals and unless the guidance they provide can be followed serious consideration should be given to long term or permanent alternate living arrangements for the animals. Even postpartum there are risks of infection and so having these conversations with the pediatrician is equally important to discussing them with the obstetric team. In addition to the risk of infection there are also other risks to discuss with a physician whenever animals will have contact with the baby. Some safety concerns linger throughout early childhood so some adjustments to the daily routine of caring for the animals may be long term in nature.
Whether animals are pets or livestock there are many activities that the expectant mother may have previously participated in which are strictly off limits during pregnancy. Physicians can explain these in detail but in basic terms any activity which would expose the pregnant woman to animal waste or bodily fluids is a risk. This can include changing litter boxes in the case of pet cats, cleaning up tanks or cages in the case of exotic pets, or even caring for farm animals and their living areas.
Of course few pet or livestock caregivers see their animals as less important after pregnancy than they were before. But once a physician recommends taking steps to limit or restrict the exposure to possible contaminants it makes very little sense to let loyalty to pets or other animals become a risk to mom or baby.