I am immune-compromised; can I own a pet?
By Dr. Ken Gorczyca
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- Wash your hands often, especially before eating or smoking.
- Keep your pet clean and well groomed. Bathe dogs regularly.
- Keep your pet's living and feeding areas clean.
- Kill those fleas! Consult your local exterminator or veterinarian to
find out the best plan of attack. You must control the fleas on your pet
as well as those in the environment to be effective. Also, take precautions
against flies and cockroaches.
- Avoid any contact with your pet's bodily products, such as vomit, feces,
urine, or saliva. In the event of an accident, clean up the mess with a disinfectant
(1 ounce of bleach in 1 quart of water works nicely), and then wash your
hands thoroughly. Even better, wear gloves or have someone who is not at
risk clean it up.
- Don't let your pet lick your face or any wounds you may have. You never know where that tongue has been.
- Keep your pet's nails trimmed short. Ask your veterinarian or groomer
to show you how. If your cat scratches excessively, consider declawing.
- Tend to any animal bite right away to help prevent infection. Rinse the
wound with cold running water. Disinfect with a "tamed iodine" such as Betadine
solution (not Betadine soap). This is readily available at drug stores. After
this first aid, always contact your physician.
Preventive Veterinary Care
Cat Litter Boxes
- Keep pet vaccinations current.
- At least once a year, take your pet for a checkup. If your pet shows
signs of possible illness, such as persistent coughing, sneezing, weight
loss, or diarrhea, contact your veterinarian right away.
- Feed your pet commercial pet foods only.
- Never feed your pets raw meat or unpasteurized milk.
- Prevent coprophagia (stool eating). Don't let your pet eat its own or other animals' feces.
- Keep your pet from drinking from the toilet bowl or rooting through the garbage.
- No hunting allowed (especially for cats). Cats can catch toxoplasmosis
from eating birds and rodents. If your cat must go outdoors you might consider
placing a double bell on its collar to help scare off potential prey.
- Keep your dog on a leash for walks to help control scavenging.
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- Keep the litter box away from the kitchen and eating areas.
- Change the litter box daily. It takes the Toxoplasma parasite at least
24 hours to become infectious. If possible have someone who is not at risk
change the litter box.
- Use disposable plastic liners and change them each time you change the litter.
- Don't dump! If inhaled the dust could possible infect you. Gently seal
the plastic liner with a twist tie and place in a plastic garbage bag for
- Disinfect the litter box at least once a month by filling it with boiling
water and letting it stand for five minutes. No other disinfecting method
seems to kill the Toxoplasma organism.
- Always wash your hands after cleaning the litter box.
Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
The feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus are different
from HIV. There is no evidence that either virus can infect people or that
HIV can infect cats. These cat viruses, however, affect the immune system
of cats in a way similar to the way HIV affects the human immune system.
Cats that are infected with either of these cat viruses are more likely to
catch diseases that may be passed on to you. It is probably best that you
do not keep any cat that tests positive for feline leukemia virus or feline
Be cautious around aquariums to prevent contact with the water. Always
wear protective gloves when adding water to a fish tank or cleaning it. Several
people at risk have acquired unusual infections from the water in aquariums.
Be especially careful if you have cuts or sores on your hands.
Although dogs are considered man's best friend, be sensitive and safe
because dogs do carry some diseases that could be spread to you. Dogs are
probably more risky if they drink out of the toilet.
Birds carry some diseases that can be transmitted to people, but they
are considered safe pets, especially if you are careful. An avian veterinarian
should check all new birds.
Adopting New Pets
New pets present more of a risk because their health history is usually
sketchy at best. Your veterinarian should examine all new pets; they may
want to run some tests to screen for diseases and parasites. If you plan
to adopt a cat, it is important to have it tested for feline leukemia and
feline immunodeficiency viruses before you expose it to any other cats, as
both of these viruses are contagious among them. Puppies and kittens are
more likely to be infected with diseases than mature animals. Be cautious
around them. Animals to avoid include stray animals, animals with diarrhea,
exotic animals, sick animals, wild animals, and monkeys.
Adapted from Safe Pet Guidelines, copyright 1991
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