How to handle pets and animals when you’re going through chemo

Published: 16 Jan 2019

If you work with animals or have pets and are getting ready to start chemotherapy, you might be wondering how safe it is for you to be around animals during and after your treatment. 

There is growing evidence that pets can help to lower blood pressure, calm anxiety, and distract people from worries and concerns.  Many people with cancer find that the unconditional love of an animal helps them to get through their treatment and the tough times. However, you should talk to your cancer care team about your animals and any potential health risks they may pose while your immune system is weakened. 

Although it’s considered safe to pet or stroke most animals, you’ll need to take extra care with your hygiene, washing your hands and making sure that any walking or working boots stay outside! When it comes to handling animal waste and manure, talk to your family, friends or employers – it’s advisable to leave the cleaning up to someone else, as contact with urine, faeces and vomit can increase your chances of getting an infection when your immune system is low

All animals are different when it comes to the risks posed to you during your cancer treatment. For instance, older, calmer, domesticated animals that are up to date on their vaccines and are well cared for pose much less of a risk than puppies and kittens that like to chew, play roughly and have ‘accidents’ in the home. If you’ve got chickens, geese, ducks, small rodents like hamsters or reptiles, it is best to find someone else to handle and care for them while you are having treatment. And, if you are thinking of rescuing and rehoming an animal it may also be advisable to avoid doing so until you have recuperated. 

Here’s list of things to take into consideration about pet care during your chemo treatment:

  1. Write down your pets’ itinerary with details of their feeding, exercise requirements, toileting habits etc and the contact details of your pet’s veterinary practice in case you are not well enough to care for them yourself following your treatment
  2. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling pets and wash with soap and hot water especially if you get animal saliva on your skin
  3. Avoid kissing your pet, letting animals lick you or putting an animal’s face near your mouth
  4. Avoid very close contact with pets such as sleeping in the same bed with them 
  5. Avoid cats that are prone to scratching and puppies or kittens with sharp claws or that are teething
  6. Get your dog or cat’s claws trimmed regularly – to help prevent you getting any unwanted scratches
  7. Clean and cover any scratches or abrasions from your pet until they heal and call your doctor if you notice swelling, pus, heat or redness around the wound 
  8. If you get bitten by an animal and its teeth break your skin you will need to see your doctor.  All bites, including human, carry a risk of infection especially to people with compromised immune systems
  9. Wash your hands before handling food or other things in the kitchen
  10. Keep animal litter boxes away from open areas, particularly places where people eat - get a friend or relative to discard the dirty litter and clean the trays for you
  11. If your pet has an ‘accident’ or vomits at home, get someone else to clean up and disinfect the soiled area. If you have to clean up after an animal by yourself, make sure you use disposable, waterproof gloves, a face mask and wash your hands afterwards 
  12. Wear waterproof disposable gloves to clean cages or animal habitats such as fish tanks, bird cages, litter trays, absorbent pads, or to pick up droppings. Take care not to handle the outside of your gloves after you use them and discard them after they have been removed
  13. Wear gloves when gardening at all times – this will help you to stay out of contact with animal manure and parasites
  14. Try to keep your dog’s time outside to a minimum and avoid places where they will meet other animals like dog parks where they can pick up infections and parasites from other animals
  15. Keep pets away from waste water, rubbish and waste food scavenging to avoid your animal getting sick
  16. Keep cats indoors if you can – they can contract parasitic infections from eating birds and rodents 
  17. If you think your pet is unwell, take them to visit the vet for medical attention and treatment so any potentially dangerous infections are treated immediately
  18. Regularly treat your cats and dogs for worms, fleas and ticks
  19. Keep pet vaccines up to date.  (You will need to find out if animal vaccines are live and ask your cancer care team if they could pose a risk to you before vaccinating your animals)
  20. Try to avoid people bringing their animals into your house that could bring infection into your home

Join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group - tell members about your pets and any tips you can offer about looking after them whilst undergoing chemo.

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