They’re members of your family, and you wouldn’t dream of giving them up, nor could you imagine going through a difficult time without their company. But should you keep your pets at home with you while you are undergoing cancer treatment?
The short answer is: Absolutely! Animals can be a great source of comfort and companionship during medical treatment and recovery, often a difficult time for people.
However, animals can also can spread infections, be a source of bacteria and viruses, and cause extra work around the house. So what’s a pet lover to do?
Although it’s not a good idea to adopt a new pet a few days after starting chemotherapy or having surgery, if you already have a pet, there are several extra precautions you should take if you want to keep him (or her, or them) with you while undergoing treatment.
Before making any plans or decisions, however, ask your oncologist. Once you have the doctor’s okay, following are steps you should take to make sure you and your furry friends get through treatment without a hitch.
Visit the Vet
Make sure Max and Tiger are in good health before you begin treatment. While bacteria and viruses in animals often do not affect humans, they can compromise pet immune systems, making them susceptible to infections that may ultimately spread to you and compromise your health, especially during chemotherapy.
According to the Pharr Road Animal Hospital specialists, a simple exam with your veterinarian can help to identify any pet health problems that may affect your personal health while you are undergoing chemotherapy:
- Ask for information on infections that you might get from your pets.
- Make sure your pets are tick- and flea-free. Take measures to prevent flea or tick infestations, as several bacterial and viral infections are spread by them.
- Make sure all of your pet’s vaccinations are up to date.
- Dogs can spread bordatella or “kennel cough” to persons with weakened immune systems. Make sure your dog has the appropriate vaccines and make sure that the review of tests done are properly scrutinized. If possible, do not place your dog in a boarding kennel or other high-risk environment.
- Have your cat tested for the feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses. Although these viruses do not spread to humans, they do affect the cat’s immune system, putting your cat at risk for other infections that may be spread to humans.
Most oncologists allow patients to changing their cat’s litter box or clean up after their dogs during chemotherapy, but do so with caution to avoid being exposed to any parasites or bacteria. Wear latex or rubber gloves and a mask, and be sure to wash your hands with soap and warm water afterward.
If your white blood cell levels drop to a certain level after chemotherapy, your doctor may advise you to avoid cleaning your cat’s litter box or cleaning up after your dog until your levels increase. It’s a good idea to have someone on call to help with this, like a neighbor or friend.
Change the cat litter daily, and keep it away from eating areas. Use disposable pan liners so that the entire pan can be cleaned with each litter change. You might even want to use a disposable litter box — just toss the box into the trash every few days.
Keep Animals Healthy During Your Treatment
There are a few tips you should follow to ensure that your pet stays healthy during your cancer treatment. One of the most obvious things to do is to hire a company like Buckhead Paws pet sitting to take care of them where and when you simply cannot, but some less-obvious tips are:
- Feed your pet only commercially prepared food and treats. Animals can get sick from undercooked or raw meat or eggs. Cats can get infections, such as toxoplasmosis, by eating wild animals like mice.
- Do not allow your pets to drink from the toilet. This spreads many infections and may expose your animal to toxins from your chemotherapy medications.
- Keep your animals clean.
- Wash your hands after handling your pet or a litter box, especially before you eat, prepare food, or take medications.
- Keep your pet’s nails short, or declaw the animal before you start treatment to reduce the risk of infection caused by animal scratches.
- If your dog begins vomiting or has diarrhea, coughing or sneezing, has decreased appetite, or has lost weight, see a vet promptly. It is important to help identify the cause of the symptoms. Avoid cleaning up the vomit and feces of sick animals.
Make an Emergency Plan
Do you have a plan in place in case you have to be suddenly hospitalized? Every pet owner should have one, but cancer patients should be especially diligent about it. Enlist the help of a friend or family member who can care for your pet in your absence. If you do not have anyone who can care for your pets, explore the idea of temporary foster care in the event you need emergency care. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend a suitable foster home if needed.
Be wary of boarding your animals or allowing them to go on “playdates” at the dog park. Even if your animals are up to date on their vaccinations, they may not provide full protection against contracting illnesses that can compromise your health.
Here are some important tips for people with other pets:
- Do not adopt wild or exotic animals. These animals are more likely to bite, and they often carry rare but serious diseases.
- Reptiles carry a type of bacteria called salmonella. If you own a reptile, wear gloves when handling the animal or its feces because salmonella is easily passed from animals to humans.
- Wear rubber gloves when handling or cleaning fish tanks.
- Clean bird cages and hedgehog enclosure more frequently to cut down on the risk of infection. Wear rubber gloves and a mask (so that you don’t accidentally breathe in toxins) when coming in contact with an exotic bird or cleaning its cage.
Not only is it okay to keep your pets around while undergoing cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, it might actually be beneficial to recovery. There’s a growing body of evidence that the human-animal bond might actually make people healthier. Animal-assisted therapy is being in hospitals and nursing homes to lower blood pressure, calm anxiety, and distract people from worries and concerns. There is even some indication that positive interactions with animals can increase levels of a hormone that promotes healing.
Now that’s something worth wagging about!