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Can I Keep My Pets During Cancer Treatment?

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.

Cleanup Tips

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.

Other Pets

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!

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  1. Amani Ellen Loutfy

    I can’t believe you advocate declawing an animal.
    I see where you’re coming from but declawing is amputation. Sometimes cats don’t recover fully and their paws stay sore for their whole lives. I have adopted a declawed cat and her paws are super sensitive.
    They also get anxious because they have their most common line of defense removed. Declawed cats often get bitey because they know they have no claws. A cat bite is much more severely threatening than a scratch!
    Please please change this admonition to trimming cats’ claws. Trimmed claws don’t cut so deeply, and cats adjust easily to this routine.

    1. Elizabeth Thompson Author

      Thank you so much for your comments. I agree that we should recommend trimming rather than declawing. I will do my best to amend the blog if possible. Thanks so much. E

  2. Bunty

    I will be having a double mastectomy, so I was wondering if it is ok to have my dog (Maltese) around me after I come home. I am told that a dog carries bacteria and I will be susceptible to infections. My dog is house trained and never goes out. I don’t want him to go to a kennel as I am very attached to him. Can someone help answer my question. Thank you.

  3. Sammy Dolan

    I think the hardest moments in life are made slightly easier by those around us. This includes animals, most peoples pets are part of the family and to remove them during treatment would cause distress. As long as you follow the advice in this article your pets should stay with you in this difficult time.

  4. Chris

    If your kitties tend to scratch, you can get little caps that cover their claw tips. This will be comfortable for them and safe for you during chemo.


    I have two lovebirds and will soon undergo chemotherapy.

  6. Lorrie

    Being extra cautious from possible infections our four legged family members can give us is neccessary. Pet clean up… Its all important! But the special bond the human and pet have, should be uninterrupted as much as possible for both their well beings. Neither, should feel the stress of too much separation or too much expectations. In other words, get them both through their new norm as smoothly as possible. So, family, friends, church family… need to step it up, and do well for both, as much as possible. Keeping safety and their needs in the forefront!

    As for me, I am on treatment only to prolong my life, not as a cure. I have stage IV mets.

    I have 5 cats and four of them will be fine without me, but there is that special big baby (cat) and I whom bonded beyond his and my ability to live without each other! Really, it’s like that! Almost! I find that sharing our bond on a regular basis, with other family members in our household (human and pet), might become another norm for him, so that he might latch onto others in a healthly way, while I leave him (is this too much fantasy, or can it be real? I can hope so, for all the right reasons.)

    We are too close! He knows I’m dying! I was irresponsible to let him attach to me too much, making it a very difficult time for the two of us,! Our vet worries, and will put him on stress meds, closer to my time. I just believe that our four legged friends’ well beings and recoveries are just as important as ours. They suffer for and with us. We use their unconditional love to help us recovery, and they have earned the same right, they just can’t tell us. Its a two way street, prepare them for better or worse, like they prepare us through better and worse!

    I love my cats. I love my baby boy (who is 2 1/2 years young and only 20 lbs of 95% muscle and 5% fat, with a beautiful heart that can love the world!!) We are getting ourselves through better and worse, one day at a time!

    We all love our four legged, slivering, singing, hopping, jumping, swimming…family members! Oh yah, our human family members too!

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