In last week's commentary, pet columnist Steve Dale criticized pediatrician Dr. T. Berry Brazelton for advising a pregnant woman to get rid of her three cats because of the potential harm the animals could pose to the infant. • After a much-publicized backlash, Brazelton did clarify his statements, as reported in the Houston Chronicle:
"Some readers wanted to be sure we debunked the myth that cats 'suck' the air out of babies. Of course we didn't mean to suggest this. But you are right that accidents can happen and that supervision of cats or dogs with babies is prudent. Rather than attributing jealousy to cats, it may be best to keep cats out of babies' cribs for the same reasons that we keep extra bedclothes and stuffed animals out of cribs. Certainly this ought to be possible without having to find a new home for the pet."
Our readers also shared their comments about this topic by e-mail and on the Whoa, Momma! blog at moms.tampabay.com. Here are some excerpts. Times staff
We were appalled at Dr. Brazelton's ignorance and totally agree that he was way out of line. Animals will suffer as a result, and he needs a giant dose of humility plus a healthy dose of public scorn. He has forgotten the physician motto of "First, do no harm."
Bill and Karen Ford, Madeira Beach
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Dr. Brazelton's remarks about the dangers of allowing cats near babies is an example of his being an expert in one field (and) showing what I believe to be his ignorance in another area . . . and perhaps he is relying more on mythology than fact. . . . Cats in general are already a much unfairly maligned animal group. Suggesting people should dispose of their cats simply because there is a baby in the home is just another "nail in the coffin" for the cats. Animal shelters are full of displaced cats and millions more feral cats roam the country. . . . It would seem to me that any remote, possible spread of germ contamination, whether from a cat, dog, gerbil, bird or any other pet in the home, would not be the fault of the animal, but the blame should lie squarely on the human caretaker for not utilizing proper hygiene and maintenance.
Bill Schalck, Lutz
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If you're willing to give up your furry kid because you want a furless kid, I'm glad I'm not your kid. And if you're willing to give up your furry kid because of old wives' tales and myths, I don't hold out much hope for the future of your furless kid.
Cassie (at moms.tampabay.com)
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Forty-five years ago, a baby girl was born to the daughter-in-law of a friend. It was soon obvious that something was very wrong. The baby was retarded. It wasn't until 10 years later . . . that it was determined she was retarded as a result of her mother's exposure to a cat infected with toxoplasmosis. Today, that baby is 45 years old with a 4-year-old mentality. The nurturing, time, money expended to maintain this child/woman has been extraordinary. And it will all fall to her sister when her mother is no longer able to care for her.
It is still not common knowledge that pregnant women in their first trimesters should not be exposed to cats who could possibly be infected with toxoplasmosis, especially cats that are allowed to roam outdoors. That is why it seems to me to be utterly irresponsible for Mr. Steve Dale to take exception to Dr. Brazelton's column. What is more important, Mr. Dale, a pet or a child? Why take chances?
Doris Zenn, Weeki Wachee
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Dr. Brazelton is probably a good person and a great doctor. . . . His advice to get rid of the family cats with the pregnant mother is a verse from the 1960s OB-GYN playbook. . . . The writer of this article is Steve Dale, and though he is not a veterinarian, I've found his editorials to be well researched through proper interview of appropriate veterinary specialists in their field. I'm surprised that he didn't list his sources in this article as he usually does.
I do have one issue with the Times latching on to a syndicated column like this though. Mr. Dale lives way up north (Chicago I believe) and many facets of veterinary care have a regional slant. For instance, most girls who grew up in Florida eating mud pies as a kid have probably been exposed to toxo, and their risk during pregnancy is minuscule. A (test) can determine a woman's risk. Ask your OB.
On the other hand, if you have questions regarding zoonotic (animal to human) diseases, ask your veterinarian. We have extensive training in parasitology.
By the way . . . you have to eat the cat feces to get toxo from a cat. It is not inhaled nor is it absorbed through the skin. . . . A cat only sheds the infectious stage of toxo for five to 10 days during its entire life. So wash your hands after cleaning the litter box. You don't have to dress up in a biological decontamination suit to change the kitty's litter.
Mark C. Brown DVM, CCRP, Central Animal Hospitals and Tampa Bay K-9 Rehab
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No matter how much you love your cats they are not worth your child's life. Toxoplasmosis is a very real and serious danger. Don't take any chances with your unborn baby's health. Even if you have someone willing to do the litter box duties make sure they immediately wash their hands after playing with the litter and cat poop!
Dean (at moms.tampabay.com)