Your pets hold a beloved place as members of your family. They play an important role in your cancer treatment and recovery, helping you focus on something outside of your cancer to recharge your mind, body and spirit. But many people wonder if pets are safe to have around during cancer treatment.
For most patients, pets are a benefit and source of comfort and companionship during this difficult time in life. But they can also spread infections, bacteria and viruses. They require extra work at home. So what should you do, in regard to your pets during your cancer treatment?
After a cancer diagnosis, you should not rush out to adopt a new pet. This is particularly true after you start chemotherapy or undergo surgery, because you will not be strong enough to care for a new pet for some time. Remember that new pets, particularly cats and dogs, take a great deal of work at first. They are much like having a new baby in the household. You have to help them understand how to live with you, just as you have to respond to their needs. So starting chemo or recovering from surgery are not the right time frames for these major lifestyle changes, for you or the pet.
Your oncologist can help you understand your treatments and whether your decisions about pets suit your needs best. Keeping a pet can be great for you, if you can keep up with the pet’s needs. If the doctor approves keeping your pet, below are some things to do to make your cancer treatments easier on you and your favorite animal.
Visit your pet’s vet to ensure the animal is healthy before you start cancer treatment. Most pet bacteria and viruses do not affect humans. But they can compromise your pet’s health. This makes your pet more likely to get infections that spread to you, put your health at risk and cause problems during your chemotherapy.
Simply taking your pet in for a vet exam can identify any health problems your cat, dog or other pet may have, issues that can affect your health during chemo. While you are at the vet, ask for info about infections you can get from your pet. Ensure they are flea and tick free, then prevent any infestations to ensure you are not at risk for bacterial or viral infections these pests spread. Update your pet’s vaccines while you are at the vet.
Some people with weak immune systems can get bordatella from their dogs, an illness known as kennel cough. Ensure your dog is fully vaccinated and has appropriate tests. Avoid putting your dog in a boarding kennel or other environment around other animals, to avoid kennel cough and other infections.
Test your cate for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses. These cannot spread to humans, but put your cat at greater risk for other illnesses and infections that humans can contract.
You will likely be able to continue changing your cat’s litter or cleaning up after your dogs as you go through chemo. But your oncologist may have some tips for ensuring you do not experience exposure to bacteria or parasites. Examples of these tips include wearing latex or rubber gloves and a mask over your nose and mouth. You should also keep your hands washed with soap and warm water after performing these tasks or heavily interacting with your pets.
There may come a time in your treatment when your oncologist advises against cleaning up after your cat or dog. At that time you may need to have a friend or loved one help you, or hire a service to do this for you.
Otherwise, change your cat’s litter each day and keep the litter away from food preparation and eating areas. Use disposable pan liners to keep the litter pan fresh and clean with each change. Disposable litter boxes work well, since you can throw them in the trash after a few days.
You will be heavily focused on your own health during cancer treatment. But you do need to ensure your pet stays healthy, too. You can hire a pet sitting service when you cannot take care of your pet as well as you should. It helps to reach out to these pet sitting companies before you need them, so you can meet them and have confidence in their capabilities before you feel ill and need to make that phone call for their help.
Remember to feed your pet only commercially made pet foods. Animals get sick from human foods, particularly undercooked or raw foods. Cats get diseases like toxoplasmosis if they eat wild animals and can pass this on to humans.
Do not permit your animals to drink water from the toilet. This spreads infections and exposes everyone in the house, including your animals, to toxins. Even your chemo medications leave toxins behind in the toilet with which your pet should not come into contact.
Keep your animals clean. Clip their nails or declaw them before cancer treatment, to ensure you do not receive accidental scratches that can cause infection. Always wash your hands before eating, cooking or taking medications and after handling your pet or their droppings.
Anytime your pet begins vomiting or suffers diarrhea, coughing, sneezing, appetite loss or weight loss, take them to the vet immediately. You must identify the cause of the symptoms and avoid being the one to clean up their vomit or feces, when they are ill.
There may come a time when you need someone else’s help, particularly during cancer treatment. Do you have a plan, such as if you need to go into the hospital? Your pet may need to stay with a friend or family member, or you may need others to come to your home and take care of your pet when you are unable. Your vet may be able to help you find someone to provide temporary foster care, if you do not have other emergency arrangements.
Try to avoid boarding your pet or taking part in playdates or dog park outings. Even with all of their vaccinations, your pets may still get sick with illnesses that can hurt your health.
Arizona Center for Cancer Care provides more than 35 offices and 55 physicians across Maricopa County for your cancer treatment. Whether you live in the Northeast Valley, Southeast Valley or West Valley, you benefit from the best physicians, leading treatment technologies and most up-to-date research in the country, right near your home.