Your Cat and Your Unborn Child

June 26, 2013

This blog is written in honor of our furry feline friends. Remember, June is Adopt-a-Cat Month, so visit your local animal shelter to add a feline to your family.

baby-catI frequently get telephone calls from expectant mothers who are worried about the impact of how interacting with their cat might impact the health of their unborn baby. Foremost in most people’s mind is toxoplasmosis, but if you are “in the family way” there are other issues regarding your cat and the expected arrival that you might want to consider.

What is toxoplasmosis and how is it contracted?
Pregnant women and their obstetricians worry about toxoplasmosis, which is an infection caused by a parasite carried by many warm blooded animals, especially cats. If you become infected with Toxoplasma gondii while you are pregnant, the organism can cross the placenta and make your baby sick. Because this organism is widespread in nature, pregnant women can be exposed to Toxoplasma through mechanisms other than their pet cat. Consumption of undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables, exposure to cat feces while gardening and contaminated cutting boards are all potential sources of Toxoplasma organisms. Wash all vegetables before you eat them and scrub your cutting boards with hot soapy water or sanitize them in the dishwasher.

Litter box dangers
If you are a cat owner, you’ll need to avoid contact with your cat’s litter box. Cat feces become infectious with Toxoplasma organisms about 24 hours after defecation. Daily removal of solid waste from your cat’s litter box is critical to protect your baby, but should be done by someone else in the household. Litter boxes should be thoroughly cleaned with scalding hot water on a weekly basis to destroy Toxoplasma organisms. Protecting your family against toxoplasmosis is just one more reason to keep your cat indoors since cats contract toxoplasmosis when they consume rodents and other small mammals.

Avoiding a fall
Although you may be radiant due to your “delicate condition,” you may also be a bit clumsy and prone to falling. In one study, over a quarter of women reported falling during pregnancyTake extra care at feeding time or other times when your cat is likely to be under foot and might cause you to fall and hurt yourself or your baby.

Scratches and bites
In your efforts to have everything perfect for the arrival of your baby, you may think about giving your cat a comb out and pedicure. My recommendation is to have the grooming done by a professional before baby arrives to help keep scratches to a minimum and to save you from a bite or scratch which might be more serious than normal.

A new baby and a new cat?
Although June is Adopt-a-Cat Month, I recommend you exercise caution when adding a new cat to your family when you are pregnant. Adopting a cat with an unknown health history or a cat who recently lived outdoors could be risky. Kittens from shelters would be more likely to pose a risk to your unborn baby than a kitten born and raised by a loving family in their home.

With reasonable precautions, you can have it all – your favorite furry feline and a healthy, happy baby.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Kittens

April 9, 2012

Lucy and her litter

My family is trying something new this spring: we are hosting a pregnant cat as part of a local foster cat program. Destiny, now known affectionately as Lucy, will be in residence until her kittens finish nursing, are eating well on their own, and weigh two pounds each. Before she came to our home, we attended a training class on how to care for cats and kittens.

Expectant Waiting

Since Lucy was a foundling, no one knew when to expect the kittens. The situation was very different than in “What to Expect When You are Expecting Puppies,” where Tallulah’s litter was a planned pregnancy and we could calculate a delivery date quite accurately. Tallulah performed admirably, whelping (the dog word for the birth of puppies) on the middle day of the three days we anticipated delivery. Not so for Lucy. When I picked her up she seemed big as a house but wasn’t showing any nesting behavior. By the second weekend of her stay, I could tell the time was coming. She would go into one of the two cardboard boxes we strategically placed around her room, scratch and hang out in the box a few minutes. At the beginning of her third week with us, she started to produce milk.

Expectant Eating

Food motivated Lucy’s life, and no wonder, since she was eating for eight. She delivered six live kittens and one stillborn kitten, so she is now nursing a large litter. Before the kittens came, I noticed she would come into the kitchen while I was making dinner and yowl for food. I purchased a clicker at my neighborhood pet store and took advantage of her food motivation by clicker training her to come. I gave two clicks when she came into the kitchen and rewarded her with Greenies – her favorite treat. Pretty soon, she learned two clicks meant a Greenie and now she comes quite quickly when she hears the clicks. Now we are working on sitting on a mat for a Greenie.

Expecting No More

The kittens came three weeks to the day after Lucy arrived at our house. The morning started normally, with Lucy following me into the kitchen, but she refused even a Greenie, so I thought something was up. We had collected several cardboard boxes for use as potential queening (the cat word for birth of kittens) boxes. Being a New Yorker, Lucy chose to deliver the kittens in a Fresh Direct delivery box. [Fresh Direct is one of the most popular New York City online grocers]. The front of the box was covered with a fleece for privacy, but she removed every blanket, towel and pad I gave her for bedding and chose to deliver on the cardboard. I was glad I had collected other boxes before the kittens came. The Fresh Direct box was soiled and needed to be thrown out, so I was able to move the new family to another familiar, but clean box after all the kittens had come.

To see a video of the new family, click here.

The foster care program provides spaying and neutering for Lucy and her family when they are ready for adoption. I predict there will be seven very delighted cat-owning families sometime in the very near future.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Puppies

December 6, 2011

Last week I switched hats for a few days and was more an obstetrician than an oncologist. One of my friend’s dogs, a Jack Russell Terrier named Tallulah, had puppies.

Planned Parenthood
This was a planned litter of puppies, all of which already have good homes. When Tallulah came into heat, we measured her blood levels of progesterone so she could meet the father dog at the optimal time for successful mating.

Getting the Good News
Unlike humans, there is no blood test to determine pregnancy in a dog. Ultrasound can detect a pregnancy 24 days after conception. Most dog pregnancies are diagnosed by palpation about 26-32 days after conception. The veterinarian can palpate swellings lined up like a string of pearls in the mother dog’s uterus – each swelling represents one tiny, growing puppy. Tallulah, being a willful terrier, would not let me feel her abdomen long enough to be sure, so we did an ultrasound to confirm there would be puppies coming around Thanksgiving. Here, you can see what we saw on ultrasound – puppies 3 and 4.

Just What the Doctor Ordered
Because this was a planned litter of puppies, Tallulah was vaccinated long before she was pregnant, and she was dewormed too. Because small dogs are prone to low calcium levels from pregnancy and nursing, once I was sure she was pregnant, I prescribed a puppy food high in calories and calcium and tasty vitamins as well.

Predicting the Big Day
Pregnancy lasts approximately 65 days in dogs. An x-ray is commonly used to determine the number of puppies to expect. See if you can count the five puppies on Tallulah’s x-ray.

Eight to 24 hours prior to delivering, a pregnant dog’s rectal temperature will precipitously drop. Tuesday morning, before Thanksgiving, Tallulah’s temperature dropped and she began shivering. By 4:30 am the next morning, there were five little female Jack Russell Terriers! Delivery took just under two hours. See a video of the new family below:


Organizing a Puppy Layette
Puppies don’t have nearly the requirements for clothes, beds, rockers and bouncy chairs as human babies. Tallulah needed a comfortable, clean and safe place to deliver her puppies. I have found a kiddie pool works well. The sides are high enough for Tallaulah to jump in and out, but keep the puppies corralled.

Pampering the New Mother
Mother dogs are totally focused on caring for and protecting their new pups. Tallulah hardly wanted to leave them long enough to go outside to urinate or defecate. Her food and water were close by the kiddie pool so she could eat and drink with the puppies nearby.

Although everyone wanted to visit the puppies, some new mothers may not feel comfortable having her family displayed and won’t want her puppies handled by strangers until they are bigger. In fact, Tallulah growled and snapped at her dog sister when she came anywhere near the puppies, but was fine for her human family to hold the puppies.

All five girls are doing well and you can see two of the fat, sleepy puppies to the left.


This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

False Pregnancy in Dogs

September 20, 2010

There has been a recurrent question on the WebMD Pet Health Community website lately. Although the question has been asked in several different ways, the dog owners asking the question needed information about pseudopregnancy in their unspayed female dogs.

Some dog owners questioned the physical and behavioral changes occurring in their dogs about two months after the heat cycle ended. Their dogs developed a distended abdomen and milk in the mammary glands — even though the female dog had not been mated and was not pregnant. Other owners noticed their dog nesting in a dark closet or under the bed. Once the dog made a nest, she collected toys or other favorite objects to put in the nest and protect as if she was guarding a litter of puppies. Gradually, the signs of pseudopregnancy wore off without any medical intervention.

Pseudopregnancy occurs in dogs because the dog’s reproductive cycle is very different than the human reproductive cycle. Dogs are “in heat” roughly twice a year. The scientific term for “in heat” is estrus. Estrus is defined as the length of time a female dog can conceive a litter of puppies. Following estrus, the hormone progesterone is elevated independent of pregnancy status. Progesterone declines more rapidly in the non-pregnant female and this hormonal change tricks the brain and body of a female dog into thinking she is pregnant, hence the name pseudopregnancy. Another name which is sometimes used for this condition is pseudocyesis.

Even though pseudopregnancy does not hurt your dog, you can prevent it since the condition intensifies with each subsequent heat cycle. Spaying is the treatment of choice for this condition and spaying has other health benefits as well. Spaying prevents another progesterone induced condition, pyometra. Pyometra is the fancy term for an infected uterus. If this occurs in your female dog, it can be a life threatening disease requiring emergency surgery. Finally, spaying a female dog before the first heat dramatically reduces the risk of mammary gland cancer.


For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit  To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

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