Pets and other animals during pregnancy

Many families think of their pets as family. Animals can bring much fun and joy to the household dynamic. But pregnant women need to be careful about the kinds of animals they keep in their home and particularly how to handle them during pregnancy.

Are dogs and cats safe pets during pregnancy?

When it comes to pets, dogs and cats are some of the most popular. You don't have to worry about finding your beloved dog or cat a new home if you're pregnant. But you do need to keep yourself and your unborn baby safe from any potential hazards. 

Known as man's best friend, a dog can be a wonderful addition to a home. For the most part, there's no reason your dog can't continue to be part of the family when you're expecting. Take these extra steps during pregnancy:

  • Be sure that your dog doesn't jump on your belly while you're sitting or lying down.
  • If your puppy has picked up some bad habits, like biting or pouncing, use this time to break him of these habits before the baby arrives.
  • Before bringing your new baby home, make sure your dog is up-to-date with vaccinations.
  • If you and your dog are especially close, ask your partner or another family member to spend more time with him. Because your new baby will take much of your time and affection, having your dog develop a closer relationship with other household members can help prepare him for the changes that will come once the baby is home.

Cats are another great family pet. But pregnant women need to be careful of toxoplasmosis when handling their cat.

  • Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite. It can be carried by cats.
  • Cats pass this parasite in their feces (stool).
  • You can get toxoplasmosis by cleaning kitty litter or touching dirt where cats might have been, including garden soil.
  • You can also get toxoplasmosis from eating undercooked meat, especially pork, lamb or deer meat.

Many people who get toxoplasmosis never have any symptoms. But this illness can cause serious complications in pregnancy, such as birth defects or even . If a pregnant mom becomes infected with toxoplasmosis for the first time just before or during pregnancy, she has a 1 in 2 chance of passing the illness to her baby.

Toxoplasmosis symptoms include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Swollen glands
  • Flu-like symptoms (fever, fatigue, sore throat)

Pregnant women can lower their chance of getting toxoplasmosis by:

  • Asking a family member who isn't pregnant to clean out the litter box every day
  • Keeping cats indoors
  • Staying away from stray cats
  • Washing hands thoroughly with running water and soap after coming in contact with cat's stool or after gardening
  • Covering the children's sandbox to stop cats from using it as a litter box
  • Avoiding undercooked meat
  • Washing kitchen utensils and counters thoroughly

Is is safe to be around hamsters, guinea pigs and mice during pregnancy?

Rodents, such as mice, hamsters and guinea pigs, are popular pets in many homes. But women who are pregnant or who plan to become pregnant should be very careful with rodents. These animals may carry a virus called lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV).

The house mouse, a wild rodent found near and in homes, is the main source of the virus. Pet rodents like hamsters and guinea pigs can become infected with LCMV after being in contact with wild rodents at a breeding facility, pet store or home.

  • People can get LCMV through contact with a rodent’s urine, blood, saliva, droppings or nesting materials.
  • The infection can also spread when a person breathes in dust or droplets that have LCMV. Examples: while sweeping up mouse droppings or cleaning out the hamster cage.
  • Pregnant women who get LCMV can pass the infection to their unborn baby.
  • LCMV can cause severe birth defects or loss of pregnancy.

LCMV symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Pregnant moms can lower their chance of getting LCMV by:

  • Keeping pet rodents in a separate part of the home
  • Asking another family member to care for the pet and clean its cage
  • Washing hands with soap and water after handling pet rodents
  • Keeping rodent cages clean and free of soiled bedding
  • Cleaning the cage in a well-ventilated area or outside
  • Keeping pet rodents away from your face
  • Avoiding contact with wild rodents
  • If a house has rats or mice, taking care of the problem quickly with either mouse traps or calling a professional pest control company (talk to your health care provider before using any pest control chemicals in your home)

If you have children, especially under the age of 5:

  • Be sure an adult closely watches them when they are around pet rodents.
  • No one should kiss pet rodents or hold them close to the face.
  • Anyone who plays with the animals or cleans their cages or bedding should wash their hands afterwards.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has more information, including how to safely handle pet rodents and clean cages.

Are reptiles and exotic pets safe during pregnancy?

Some families have reptiles for household pets. These animals include lizards, snakes and turtles. Some of these animals can carry germs that make people sick. One illness they carry is salmonellosis (salmonella infection). 

Salmonella infection is a bacterial disease. Most salmonella infections come from food sources, such as poultry, meat and eggs. But salmonella infection can be linked to reptiles.

Even if a pet reptile has a negative test for salmonella, it doesn't mean the animal is not infected with the bacteria. Instead, it could mean that the animal was just not shedding salmonella on the day it was tested.

Pregnant women and children under age 5 should be especially careful of salmonella. They are at increased risk of infection. A family expecting a child should remove any pet reptile from the home before the infant arrives.

Salmonella symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pains
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches

Pregnant moms can lower their chance of getting salmonella by:

  • Staying away from reptiles
  • Washing hands with soap and water after coming in contact with reptiles or animal stool
  • Keeping reptiles out of the kitchen and other food preparation areas, including sinks
  • Cleaning surfaces that have been touched by reptiles
  • Avoiding undercooked food

The CDC has more information on diseases from reptiles, including turtles. If you have any additional questions or concerns about the safety of your pet during your pregnancy, talk to your health provider.

Last reviewed March 2009

Most common questions

Is air travel safe during pregnancy?

If your pregnancy is healthy, it’s usually safe to travel by plane. Follow these tips when traveling by air:
  • Ask your airline if they have a cut-off time for traveling during pregnancy. You can fly on most airlines up to 36 weeks of pregnancy. But if you’re flying out of the country, the cut-off time may be earlier.
  • If you’ve had morning sickness during pregnancy, ask your provider if you can take medicine to help with nausea.
  • Book an aisle seat so you don't have to climb over other passengers when you need to get up to use the restroom or walk around. Try sitting towards the front of the plane where the ride feels smoother.
  • Drink plenty of water. Don’t drink carbonated drinks, such as soda. And don’t eat foods, such as beans, that may cause gas.Gas in your belly can expand at high altitudes and make you feel uncomfortable.
  • Fasten your seat belt when you’re in your seat. This can help keep you from getting hurt in case of turbulence. Turbulence happens when the air around a flying plane causes a bumpy ride.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Flex your ankles during the flight, and take a walk when it's safe to leave your seat. Doing these things can help your blood flow and lower your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot inside a vein. Sitting for long stretches of time during any kind of travel raises your chances of having DVT. Ask your health care provider if you should wear support stockings during your flight. They may help prevent DVT. But if you have diabetes or problems with blood circulation, you probably shouldn’t wear them.
  • Tell the flight attendant if you feel sick or very uncomfortable during your flight. Contact your health care provider as soon as you can.

Is it safe to get or have a tattoo during pregnancy?

It's best to wait until after having your baby to get one. Here's why: Hepatitis B, a dangerous liver infection, and HIV/AIDS are two of many diseases that can be passed along through bodily fluids. This means you can catch these diseases if you get a tattoo from someone who uses a dirty needle. And you can pass these diseases along to your baby during pregnancy.

We don't know how tattoo dyes and inks affect a developing baby. Small amounts of chemicals that might be harmless to an adult can have a much bigger impact on a growing baby.

Most healthcare providers will give an epidural to a woman with a tattoo on her lower back. But they may decide not to if the tattoo is recent and fresh. If you have a tattoo on your back and are considering getting an epidural for pain relief during childbirth, find out what the hospital's policy is before you're admitted.

Is it safe to get spa treatments during pregnancy?

Some spa treatments are safe. Others may be more painful than usual. And some - like mud baths - are a bad idea while you're pregnant.

Any spa treatments that raise your body temperature (like mud baths, hot wax and seaweed wraps) are almost always unsafe during pregnancy. Steam rooms, hot tubs, and saunas also raise your body temperature. They can make you dehydrated and overheated. This can be dangerous for you and your baby. Avoid these treatments while you're pregnant.

Be careful with skin treatments like facials and body scrubs. During pregnancy, your skin changes a lot and may be extra sensitive. Before you cover your whole body with a product, test it on a small area of skin to be sure it doesn't irritate.

Getting your eyebrows done and having your bikini line waxed are usually safe during pregnancy, but they may feel more painful to your sensitive skin.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).