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April 10, 2024

Looking After your Pet While Being Treated for Cancer

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Having a pet can be a great source of comfort when you’re going through cancer treatment. Yet being a pet owner is also a big responsibility. It’s important to have a plan for taking care of both your own health and your pet’s well-being.

Is It Safe to Keep My Pet?

Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can weaken your immune system. As a result, you may be more likely to get certain diseases that animals carry and can pass to humans.

To protect your health, you may need to take extra precautions. Talk with your healthcare team. Explain the kind of pet you have and your usual pet care routine. Many healthy pets that live indoors are fine to be around. However, some pets pose a greater risk. You may need to stay away from them while you’re getting cancer treatment.

If you have a weakened immune system, the CDC recommends avoiding:

  • Reptiles, such as lizards, snakes, and turtles
  • Backyard poultry, such as chickens and ducks
  • Rodents, such as hamsters, mice, and guinea pigs
  • Exotic pets, such as monkeys and wild animals

Delegate The Germiest Chores

Even if you have a lower-risk pet, such as a dog or cat, certain chores are best left to others when you have a weakened immune system. If possible, arrange for someone else to:

  • Clean up pet waste (urine and feces)
  • Change cat litter or birdcage liners
  • Clean fish tanks If you must do these chores yourself, wear disposable, waterproof gloves. Afterward, wash your hands well with running water and soap.

Safeguard Your Pet’s Health 

Make sure your pet is up to date on vaccines, flea and tick prevention, and veterinary checkups. Be sure to ask your cancer team if it’s OK for your pet to receive “live” vaccines during your treatment. Get to the vet right away if your pet shows signs of illness, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or sneezing. By taking great care of your pet, you’re reducing your own risk for infection. 

Have a Pet Sitter on Standby 

You may be involved in many aspects of your pet’s life, such as feeding and playing. Always wash your hands after touching your pet or handling pet food and toys. What if you sometimes don’t feel well enough to do these things or have to spend time in the hospital? Line up a dependable person who can step in if needed. Put written pet care instructions someplace easy to find, such as near your pet’s food and water bowls.