A guide to pet safety during cancer treatment

Can cancer patients be around pets?

Pets can be a helpful source of emotional comfort when undergoing treatment for cancer. Enhancing your mental health and wellbeing throughout your cancer journey. But aside from providing emotional comfort, scientific studies have also shown that the presence of a pet can help regulate heart rate, lower blood pressure, and shorten recovery times. Physical activity may even be encouraged by owning a pet. The presence of a dog can motivate you to go for walks more often, increasing your physical activity levels.

It is often recommended by doctors that patients stay active during their cancer treatment to maintain a healthy body weight, reduce fatigue, and aid in recovery. However, it's important to remember that cancer treatment can weaken your immune system, so you may need to take extra precautions to avoid infection during treatment.

Any pets you have should be shared with your cancer team

Not all pets pose the same risks, and not all cancer treatments do, either. Tell your cancer care team about any pets you may have and your routines for caring for them. If you need to change your routines they can tell you what is or might not be safe for you.

If you are planning to get a new pet, don't forget to let your cancer team know, as this isn't usually recommended. However, if you do choose to adopt a pet, a healthy older dog or cat can pose less risk than those under a year old. Puppies and kittens are more likely to play rough, bite, or have in-home accidents, all of which can cause infections. 

Take your pet to the vet before cancer treatment starts 

It’s a wise idea to visit your pet’s veterinarian. This will enable you to find out what kinds of illnesses might be passed on from your pet during times when your immune system is weak. Pets can sometimes pick up germs that don't make them sick. However, if a person with a weak immune system gets some of these germs, they can become seriously ill, which can delay treatment.

It is imperative to make sure that pets have all their vaccinations up to date, such as heart worm prevention, flea and tick medication, and heart worm prevention. Live vaccines may be part of some vaccines, so always check with the doctor and your cancer team before receiving them. It is possible for your pet to become ill and for the infection to be passed on to you through symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhoea. See a veterinarian right away, if any of these symptoms happen. 

For more safety you can get your cat tested for feline leukaemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency (FIV) viruses. Even though these viruses can’t infect you, they affect the cat’s immune system and put them at risk of other infections that can infect you.  

Bites & Scratches: Keep your pet's nails trimmed 

This is not only because of infections, but also because some treatments can stop your blood from clotting. This happens when the number of platelets in the blood is reduced. Platelets are the cells that help your blood to clot and stop bleeding. When your platelet count is low, you may bruise or bleed a lot or very easily and have tiny purple or red spots on your skin.

These symptoms are associated with a condition called thrombocytopenia. It is critical to tell your doctor or nurse if you notice any of these changes. Whenever you get scratched or bitten, keep it covered and clean it. All bites carry the risk of infection and can require hospitalisation even in people with normal immune systems. If it does become red, warm, swollen, or oozes pus, call your healthcare team as soon as possible.  

How to keep your pet's environment clean 

There are several illnesses that can spread through pet droppings and urine. Whenever possible, ask someone else to clean up after your pets. However, if that is not an option wear gloves and wash your hands carefully afterwards to ensure your safety.

1. Fish Tanks 
Always wear waterproof gloves.

2. Litter Box
Always wear a mask to prevent inhaling litter dust and keep the litter box away from the kitchen and dining areas.

3. Bird Cages
The most effective way to keep bird cages hygienic is to disinfect them every day. 

In what ways can I protect my pet from infections? 

Keeping your pets and their sleeping areas clean is essential to prevent the spread of diseases from outside. If possible, avoid very close contact with your pet, including kissing, snuggling, and sharing a bed. But if you cannot resist, make sure you wash your hands afterwards, even if you wear gloves. 

Keeping your pets, like cats and dogs indoors as much as possible to minimise exposure to diseases is an easy way to avoid infections. However, your pet may be desperate to go out! This is why it is critical to keep your pets' vaccines up to date and to monitor any signs of infection.  

Additionally, keeping your pets away from other animals is key to avoiding infections. You can do this by keeping your dog on the lead when on walks, and avoiding dog parks and pet shops. For cats this can be much more challenging! As they are more likely to hunt birds and small rodents. This is a common way cats get a parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis. It doesn’t often make the cat sick, but it can seriously sicken or even kill someone with a weakened immunity. Learning the symptoms may save your life and keep your cat healthy. 

Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis 

1. Human Symptoms 
Swollen lymph glands, especially around the neck.
Muscle aches and pains
Generally feeling unwell
Inflammation of the lungs
Inflammation of the heart muscle
Inflammation of the eye

2. Cat Symptoms
Loss of appetite, or trouble chewing and swallowing food
Difficulty breathing
Yellow skin (jaundice)
Vision and balance issues
Ear twitching
Behaviour changes
Pressing the front of their heads against surfaces 

The following pets should be avoided by Cancer Patients

Unfortunately some pets and animals do need to be avoided during cancer treatment. This is because these animals are very common carriers of salmonella and other dangerous germs, all of which can be lethal in people with very weak immune systems. These germs can cause severe diarrhoea and skin infections. Salmonella can live for some time on surfaces and objects that the animal has touched, so it is essential to keep your home as clean as you can.Here is a list of pets and animals to avoid during treatment:

  • Reptiles
  • Chickens 
  • Ducks 
  • Rodents  

Discover more safety tips for cancer treatment here - Safety Tips 

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