Most household pets don’t pose a risk to cancer patients, though there are some exceptions. Adult animals that live inside the home don’t pose a high risk for infection, provided you follow certain precautions. A cancer diagnosis means it’s probably not the right time to adopt a new pet, since puppies and kittens are likelier to play more roughly, and accidentally nip or scratch a person with a weakened immune system.
During cancer treatment, it’s also important to keep an eye on your pets for any signs of illness, since some diseases and viruses can be passed on to humans. If your dog or cat has a runny nose, cough, weight loss, vomiting, or diarrhea, it’s important to talk to their veterinarian right away, to help evaluate risk of transfer to humans.
How Can Infections be Transferred from Pets to Humans?
During cancer treatment, it’s important to avoid bites and scratches. Begin by ensuring that your pet’s nails are kept trimmed, and avoid rough play with your pets that could lead to an accidental scratch or nip. If you do receive an accidental scratch or bite that breaks the skin, call your doctor right away; and damage to your skin poses a risk of infection, and possibly even hospitalization.
Feces, Urine, Saliva, and Vomit
Each of these fluids presents a point of possible transfer of infection between your pet and you. Where possible, ask someone else to be in charge of changing your cat’s litter box, and keep the box away from food preparation areas. The same goes for cleaning up pet “accidents.” Ideally, ask someone else to clean them up (or wear protective gloves, if necessary), and be sure to disinfect the area thoroughly after cleaning.
Even friendly licks from your dog or cat can potentially transmit disease, so it’s best to avoid letting your pet lick near open sores or near your mouth, and to wash your hands after a particularly affectionate play session with your dog or cat.
Keeping Your Pets Healthy During Treatment
The easiest way to help reduce the risk of transferring an infection or illness from your pet, is to do everything you can to keep them from getting sick in the first place. Make sure that your dog or cat’s medications are up to date, including those for heartworm, fleas, and ticks. Your pet’s sleeping area should be kept clean, and dogs and cats should be kept inside (except for bathroom breaks) to reduce their contact with unknown animals.
Pets to Avoid During Cancer Treatment
While many pets are safe to care for during cancer treatment, there are a few that should be avoided. All reptiles, including lizards, iguanas and snakes pose an increased risk for carrying salmonella, which can live on surfaces for a long time, which means you could be exposed to the germ even without any direct contact with the animal.
Chickens and ducks also should be avoided, when your immune system is compromised, because they are also known carriers of salmonella. Hamsters, gerbils, mice, guinea pigs, ferrets and other rodents also carry salmonella, and exposure can cause diarrhea, skin infections and other illness.