For many people, pets feel like a part of the family. After a cancer diagnosis, pets can offer many benefits. Benefits include: companionship, improved mood, and motivation to stay active. Some hospitals and treatment centers even use animal therapy to help improve patients’ well-being. (Don’t be surprised if you get a visit from a specially trained therapy dog during a chemo infusion!)
However, as a cancer patient, there are some things you need to keep in mind when it comes to pets during cancer treatment.
Talk to your healthcare team about your treatment plan and your pets. Some cancer treatments can weaken your immune system, so you may need to take special precautions. Being around animals, including pets, may increase your risk of infection. While going through cancer treatment, it’s best to follow some basic guidelines:
- If you live with family or a roommate, ask someone else to clean up after pets such as cleaning the litter box or changing dog pads. If you need to clean up after a pet, wear gloves and wash your hands well after the cleanup. If you are cleaning a litter box, wear a mask to avoid inhaling the litter dust. Keep the litter box away from the kitchen and dining room.
- If your pet is sick—vomiting, diarrhea, or sneezing—take your pet to the vet right away. Your pet may have an infection that could be passed on to you if your immune system is weak. You also want to make sure your pet receives the care it needs!
- Avoid scratches. Keep your dog’s or cat’s nails trimmed to minimize the risk of scratches. If you do get scratched, clean it well and keep it covered with a bandage. If it becomes red, warm, swollen, or oozes pus, call your healthcare team as soon as possible. It may be infected.
- Keep your pets up-to-date on vaccines, heartworm prevention, and flea and tick medications to reduce your exposure to infection as well as for their own protection.
- Do not adopt new pets or take in strays during cancer treatment. Strays are more likely to carry unknown germs and not be up-to-date on vaccines, even if the animal appears healthy. (Additionally, new pets take a lot of time and energy which you may not have to give during cancer treatment.)
- Some pets and animals do need to be avoided during cancer treatment when your immune system is weakened. Reptiles, chickens, ducks, and rodents can carry salmonella and other germs that may cause infection. Salmonella can lead to severe diarrhea, and it can be especially dangerous for cancer patients.
- Find a good pet sitter! If you have to spend time at the hospital for surgery or treatment, make sure you have a reliable pet sitter lined up to take care of your pet while you’re healing.
As long as you talk to your healthcare team and take the appropriate measures to reduce your risk of infection, your furry friends can stay by your side during cancer treatment!