Pets can be a great source of emotional comfort when undergoing treatment for cancer. Helping you through your cancer journey by improving your mental health and wellbeing. 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.
Owning a pet might even help you to stay physically active. A dog can push you to feel more motivated to get outside for a walk, leading to more regular physical activity.
Doctors often suggest patients stay active when possible during their treatment to maintain a healthy body weight, reduce fatigue, and aid in recovery from surgery and treatment. But it is important to remember cancer treatment can weaken your immune system, meaning you may need to take extra precautions during treatment to keep the risk of infection low.
Tell your cancer team about any pets you have
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. They can tell you what might not be safe for you and will help you prepare or change any routines, ready for treatment.
If you are planning to get a new pet, don't forget to let your cancer team know, as this isn't usually recommended. But 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 treatment starts
It’s a good idea to visit your pet’s veterinarian to find out what kinds of illness might be passed from your pet during times when your immune system is weak. Pets can sometimes pick up germs that don't make them sick, but if a person with a weak immune system gets some of these germs, they can become seriously ill, which can delay treatment.
Make sure pets are up to date with they're vaccinations like, heartworm prevention, and flea and tick medications. Some vaccines may be live, so always check with the vet and your cancer team before live vaccines are given. Runny nose, cough, weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhoea are signs that your pet may be ill and the infection can be passed on to you. See a veterinarian right away, if any of these symptoms happen.
For more safety you can get your cat tested for feline leukemia (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 as some treatments can stop your blood from clotting. This happens as 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 from a condition called thrombocytopenia. It is important to tell your doctor or nurse if you notice any of these changes. If you do get scratched or bit clean it well and keep it covered. 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.
Cleaning After Pets
If you can, ask someone to clean up after your pets, but if this is not possible you should wear gloves and wash your hands well afterwards to keep yourself safe and wear waterproof gloves for cleaning fish tanks. If cleaning a litter box, wear a mask to avoid inhaling the litter dust and keep the litter box away from the kitchen and dining room. A number of illnesses spread via pet droppings, and a few can spread through urine. For bird cages, it is best to clean them out everyday.
Help your pet avoid infections
Pets can bring in all sorts of diseases from outside, so it is key to keep your pets and their sleeping areas clean. And if you can, avoid very close contact, such as kissing, snuggling, or sleeping with your pet in the same bed. But if you can not resist, make sure you wash your hands afterwards, even if you wore 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 but your pet may be desperate to go out! This is why it is critical to keep your pets vaccines up to date and to keep an eye on any symptoms of infections developing.
Additionally, keeping your pets away from other animals is key for avoiding infections. You can do this by keeping your dog on the lead when on walks, and evading any dog parks and pet shops. For cats this can be much harder! 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 weakened immunity. Learning the symptoms could help save your life and keep your cat healthy.
Pets to avoid
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 key to keep your home as clean as you can.
Here is a list of pets and animals to avoid during treatment: