Thursday, January 18, 2007

Getting rid of cats ' to be safe'

We've been getting a few emails of late again from people who have been told to get rid of their cats for various reasons. For example, the cat owner gets pregnant and she is told to get rid of the cat because of toxoplasmosis. She isn't told for example, that the chances of getting it from a cat are so rare that the British Medical Journal (an article I can send you if you are interested) said it was not a risk factor. She isn't told cats secrete it for only a short period of time - hence the low chances of getting it from a cat. She isn't told that as a precaution, she should just get someone else in the family to clean the sandtray and to wash her hands before eating. She isn't told that her chances of getting it are highest from handling raw meat or pork. She isn't even tested to check if she already had toxoplamosis antibodies because of the high number of people who already have had it at some point in their lives!

Why? Often because in the cases who write to us, the doctor says to get rid of the cat because it is just 'safer'. The same happens with people who have allergies and asthma. Again, very few of the people who write in were ever tested to see if they were indeed allergic to cats.

Now I am sure that there are very responsible doctors out there are testing their patients and not giving alarmist advice. They are probably the vast majority and hence we never hear from their patients. It disturbs me however that there are still doctors who give advice to get rid of cats to be safe. It's bad for two reasons - one, the cat obviously is given away, and two, in cases of the allergy sufferer for example, the cause of the allergy may not be pinpointed, causing the person to still suffer from the same symptoms.

In fact, studies have shown that (as long as the mother is not asthmatic) it is a good idea to have some animals in the house to prevent your child from getting allergic.

Some people will of course claim that parents cannot be too careful - and of course the health of the child is paramount but it should be tempered by common sense. My mother tried for six years to conceive me and she was very careful during her pregnancy - the one thing she didn't do though (and which she wasn't advised to do even all those years ago) was to give up her cats. I grew up with them and have never been allergic to animals - though I am to other things like dust.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Dawn,

I totally agree with you!

Some people are so over protective that they pratically make their kids live in a bubble. No wonder they are allergic to everything and fall sick at the slightest.

To be fair, I have no kids, so some may say that I do not understand the concerns of parents. However, I did tell my husband to give me "2 tight slaps" if I behave similarly when we do have kids!

I shall read the links to articles that you have provided carefully and give logical rebuttals when I hear any more bollocks about cats and dogs causing children to develop allergies blah blah.

18/1/07 12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are still people who believes cats( domestic ones) are responsible for SARS. Learned professionals at that.

18/1/07 12:42 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Disturbing - especially since as with all diseases,this means people don't really know how to protect themselves against them. For example, someone may toss their cat out and eat and handle undercooked meat and get toxo anyway.

Bottom line - do as much reading as you can. While doctors of course give expert advice now with the Internet and the sheer number of libraries around, information is easily available. That will help everyone to make an informed decision.

18/1/07 12:51 PM  
Anonymous AutumnPiglet said...

Dawn is right ... we have to do our own research to be more informed. Don't get conned by doctors just because they are doctors. Just because they have a doctor title doesn't mean they know everything.

Unfortunately, some will still think what the doctors said are the whole truth, despite information from elsewhere that states otherwise.

Afterall, they are doctors, they HAVE to know everything right? That's the general response that I get.

I actually had to forbid my mom from going back to a particular doctor because he said exercise (especially walking) was bad for her! Whereas, having done some research, I found out that light exercises (especially walking) is very good for someone in her condition. That same doctor actually made her buy Vitamin D at $120 when basically if she stood in the sun, her body can produce it naturally!

18/1/07 1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think doctors who flippantly advise getting rid of cats in pregancy and asthma cases are ignorant and irresponsible. what does this show except that these doctors think pets are disposable. this attitude mirrors that of the society they practise in. u only see this in ctries with low animal welfare awareness. i am sure doctors in the States, Canada or UK will never dispense such advice without very serious consideration.

18/1/07 1:22 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

That's an interesting point Anonymous - when I did a google search earlier and there were articles on allergies to cats, the usual response was first, how to handle the problem WITHOUT giving away the cat but without compromising health.

autumnpiglet - I agree. No one knows your body better than you do. Reading up, you and the doctor together can come up with something that will work for you. Doctors can't be expected to know everything - and after all the sick person is the one who has the most stake in getting better. That would involve trying to know as much as possible about what ails them.

18/1/07 1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately it is common perception that cats are dangerous to pregnant women. Most people dont even know what is Toxo, the myth is just pregnant women who touch cats will have retarded kids. It is a myth that is very hard to dispel, and when they find out about Toxo, the more they freak out. Being kiasu, they rather be safe than sorry and knowing that the cat has a 0.000000000000000000000000000001 percent of giving them "retarded" children, they are even more likely to throw the cat out.

Got a friend who works in higher management, highly educated, working in Europe for MNC. In short you would think is an more well informed person. Well she is pregnant and I said hah I better not bring my cats to your place, she said yeah! cannot... cat fur will affect pregnancy..... Hmmmm where on earth she got that idea....

18/1/07 1:52 PM  
Blogger E_Cat said...

Would a note to Singapore Medical Association (SMA) or letter to Straits Times forum (addressed to SMA) help shed light on this misconception?

18/1/07 2:01 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

18/1/07 2:10 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

E_Cat, I think that people are told to give the cats away to 'be safe' because there is a possibility of catching toxo. That isn't wrong in itself - there is also a possibility you may die in a road accident crossing the road, but it's highly unlikely if you take precautions. Similarly, the chances of your catching toxo from a cat, while possible, is very very unlikely.

Also I think the letter would only be effective if it was signed by a whole group of doctors. Even then when we've sent people letters written by doctors, they'll tell us THEIR doctor advised them not to keep cats.

One thing probably to note is how much people themselves want to keep the cats. Imagine if you have an extremely immune compromised child who easily gets sick, would you give away your other child because the first child might catch something? If the cat is really part of the family, I think people will try their best to keep it somehow.

18/1/07 2:12 PM  
Anonymous ej said...

I belongs to a Pandas watching group online. There is a lady member who wanted to keep her cats so much even though she is allergic to cats. She have to to take medications and she don't mind doing this for the love of her cats.

18/1/07 3:13 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

ej - I know a few people like that. One lady I know gets shots to minimise the symptoms. With some people, it can be easy as making sure the cat is bathed more often. Of course there is also desensitisation - some people start out allergic, but get much better with exposure as well.

18/1/07 3:21 PM  
Anonymous ej said...

Ah, all these wonderful catowners.
Their love for their cats are so great.

18/1/07 3:30 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

It's also about being responsible - you adopted the cat in the first place. Of course there may be changing circumstances, or there may be genuine health concerns that cannot be surmounted. In that case, again the responsible thing is to ensure the cat is safely settled somewhere (and not tossed out on the street or put down).

I think that a lot of cats are actually given up unnecessarily though - and that is the upsetting thing.

18/1/07 3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes it is pressure from family. Imagine your parents and your spouse's parents nagging you day in and out. And then later your brother or sister in law starts bugging you. The pressure can be tremendous.

18/1/07 6:23 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Yes that's true Anonymous - but again, it's disturbing that spouses, relatives, etc are then not looking at what really constitutes a risk and what isn't. As I said, this could end up with a situation where someone gives up their cat, and then gets toxo because the meat isn't cooked properly. It's not only important for the cat, it's important for the person's health to know what is a risk and what is not, and not to base it on murky half-facts.

18/1/07 6:30 PM  
Anonymous profpig said...

My brothers and I have really bad sinus. My uncle is asthmatic. We just take precautions, wash our hands and not touch our faces after playing with our cat.

My neighbour who gave birth to a healthy and smart boy has 2 cats.

With these "logics", no wonder so many old folks are being dumped like cats these days too. The "good" doctors will attribute it to allergy as well...

18/1/07 9:04 PM  
Anonymous AutumnPiglet said...

Guess what, I met a friend last evening and she said she was told by the doctor to get rid of her dog because she has mild asthma. Immediately I thought about this blog entry by Dawn.

Doctors are really not enlighted folks. My friend has not an asthma attack after getting her dog more than 1 year ago. But because the doctor said so, she is now looking for someone to adopt her dog.

I guess the good thing is that she didn't just dump the dog at SPCA or something.

19/1/07 9:28 AM  
Blogger Dawn said...

That's sad to hear Autumnpig. Your friend is not considering keeping the dog?

Profpig - I used to be allergic to a great many things growing up and had bad sinus. I would immediately start sneezing and having a blocked nose when I was exposed to say dust from a carpet - but never from animals. Eventually I outgrew the other allergies too.

19/1/07 9:31 AM  
Anonymous AutumnPiglet said...

No, she's not considering keeping the dog.

19/1/07 10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can we come out with some flyers to "educate" the doctors? The doctor put the blame on our cats when my grandmother visited each time with itches, rashes or whatever.
There is this TV show "creature comforts" mostly on dogs. Possible to do one for cats too? But I guess it's more difficult to handle the cats during filming.

19/1/07 12:55 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Anonymous - I think it would be more impressive if other doctors came out with the information. Furthermore, the information for example on toxoplasmosis and allergies are widely available in journals. It's just that some doctors may not be keeping up to date, or letting their own bias influence them.

Maybe it's a societal thing - when I looked up allergies and asthma information, it seemed that the medical websites seemed to suggest ways to cut down the problem first and giving the cat away only as a final solution. Here it seems to be the opposite. Maybe it's also because of the patients - apparently I read in the US there's a joke that if you ask a patient to give up their cat, they're more likely to give up their doctor!

19/1/07 1:40 PM  
Anonymous AutumnPiglet said...

Good one Dawn!

If a doctor asks me to give up my pets. My first reaction would also be to give up the doctor.

My brother and sister has sinus and eczema. I have a mild eczema too, but so far the doctors have not asked us to give up our pets. Which is good. The most they said was to avoid sleeping with the pets.

19/1/07 2:04 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Nice, sensible doctor! The point I think is that there seems to be a knee jerk reaction with some doctors at least to get rid of the cat without first trying other alternatives or even trying to determine if the cat IS the cause.

19/1/07 2:18 PM  
Blogger FiveCatsMom said...

FiveCatsKid (human) is 8 months already and he's a month ahead developmentally. Although he is a little afraid of the 5 multi-coloured "panthers" in the house, he has no asthma, allergies, and even eats cat fur (um...accidentally) with no problems .

I got *A LOT* of pressure from EVERYONE when I was pregnant to get rid of them. I told them, I have done my research and unless I eat the cat poo, I will not get toxo, et all. Now there is just silence from the crowd, but the occasional, er... you still got your cats? And I say, of course!

Pregnant moms just need be informed and armed with facts, be firm and stand their ground. I refused to fold. It helped that my gynae was supportive so it helped ease (well, not by much) the pressure a little from family and friends - could cite her, you see. My cats are still home with us and are gentle with our baby.

Another friend is keeping her two beloved pooches. Good for her and lucky baby to have 2 more family members who will love it.

19/1/07 5:15 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Thank you for that lovely story Three - and for standing up for your cats. Another volunteer wrote into me - he has just had a baby and he and his wife kept their cats. The baby is perfectly healthy.

There are people who keep their cats of course - I am sure quite a lot do, but as you said, if mothers are up to date on their facts, that's the best defence. At the end of the day, it is your baby - and no matter how well-meaning everyone is, the decision is ultimately yours.

19/1/07 5:45 PM  
Anonymous profpig said...

Agree. My sinus gets even worse when I visit my friends' house with no pets. Cats or any furry animals are not the only causes.

My doc told me that my cat may be the MINOR reason why my sinus is triggered. He has no problem with pets at all. In fact, like what Dawn said, dust might be the main cause!

19/1/07 8:52 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

I think the main thing to bear in mind is not that we're asking anyone to put their health at risk - but to use some commonsense. Find out as best as you can, what causes the allergies. A skin prick test is an easy way to do this and you'll then know if you really ARE allergic. If so, then it's time to decide what to do and how severe it is.

Get tested for toxo and look at what precautions to take if you don't already have antibodies. Don't get rid of the cat as the first step.

I know people who are also allergic to several different things - so it may be that in combination, they make you feel terrible. Cutting down one or several of those factors in terms of intensity may actually mean it's something you can live with.

19/1/07 10:38 PM  

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