Q: I’m planning to get pregnant and a friend says I should give my cat Myrtle as a gift because it can transmit a disease that could harm my unborn child. Is that true?
A: Rest assured, you can keep Myrtle. It sounds like your friend is referring to toxoplasmosis called “toxo,” a disease caused by a unicellular protozoan parasite called toxoplasma.
If you are among the roughly 30% of the population already exposed to Toxoplasma, you have antibodies that protect your unborn child from the disease. Your doctor can check your antibody levels and advise you.
If you don’t have antibodies to Toxoplasma, steps should be taken to prevent infection during pregnancy, as this can increase the risk of miscarriages, eye problems, and brain damage in your unborn baby. Fortunately, knowing a little about Toxoplasma is easy to prevent infection.
A cat becomes infected by ingesting the organism trapped in the muscles of a rodent, bird, or other animal. To prevent this from happening, restrict Myrtle indoors so she doesn’t eat wildlife and feed her commercially processed cat food, not raw food.
Cats with Toxo rarely show signs of infection. However, in the first few weeks after infection, they excrete non-infectious Toxoplasma eggs called oocysts (OH’-oh-sists) in their feces.
It takes more than a day for the oocysts to become infectious. You should therefore use the Myrtle litter box at least once a day. Wear a mask and disposable gloves, and then wash your hands. Or, better yet, have another adult scoop the litter boxes.
Oocysts excreted in sand and soil are a risk. So cover sandpits when not in use and wash your hands after playing outdoors. Wear gloves in the garden. Wash hands afterwards; and wash all fruits, vegetables and herbs before eating them.
Uncooked animal muscle, unpasteurized milk, and cheese made from raw milk are major sources of Toxoplasma exposure. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish are cooked thoroughly and don’t taste food until completely cooked. Wash cutting boards and utensils in hot, soapy water and always wash your hands before eating.
If you take these simple precautions, you can live safely with Myrtle while you are pregnant. Best wishes to you and your new baby.
Q: Is it safe to give grapes as a treat to our dogs? One of our friends gives them to her dogs, but another friend says they are poisonous.
A: Dogs that eat grapes, raisins, or tamarind fruits can develop kidney damage that is severe enough to result in kidney failure and death.
Grapes in “doses” of 0.32 to 2.4 ounces per pound of dog’s body weight and raisins in 0.045 to 0.59 ounces per pound are toxic to dogs.
The first signs of poisoning are belching, diarrhea, abdominal pain, excessive drooling, lethargy, dehydration, and loss of appetite. Immediate veterinary care is needed to maintain kidney function and save the dog’s life.
Veterinary toxicologists believe that tartaric acid and potassium bitartrate in grapes, raisins, and tamarinds are responsible for the fruit’s toxicity in dogs.
The concentrations of these chemicals vary depending on the grape variety, growing conditions and degree of ripeness. That’s probably why grapes and raisins sometimes don’t cause problems, but other times they are deadly.
Tartar, used in cooking and baking, is another term for potassium bitartrate. Unsurprisingly, ingesting tartar in dogs also causes symptoms and kidney damage.
While grapes, raisins, tamarinds, and tartar are safe for humans, they are poisonous to dogs. Therefore, keep them away from your family members.
Lee Pickett, VMD, is a veterinary practitioner in North Carolina. Contact them at