Sunrise Pet Clinic: Educational Information

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I am immune-compromised; can I own a pet?

By Dr. Ken Gorczyca


  • Wash your hands often, especially before eating or smoking.
  • Keep your pet clean and well groomed. Bathe dogs regularly.
  • Keep your pet's living and feeding areas clean.
  • Kill those fleas! Consult your local exterminator or veterinarian to find out the best plan of attack. You must control the fleas on your pet as well as those in the environment to be effective. Also, take precautions against flies and cockroaches.
  • Avoid any contact with your pet's bodily products, such as vomit, feces, urine, or saliva. In the event of an accident, clean up the mess with a disinfectant (1 ounce of bleach in 1 quart of water works nicely), and then wash your hands thoroughly. Even better, wear gloves or have someone who is not at risk clean it up.
  • Don't let your pet lick your face or any wounds you may have. You never know where that tongue has been.
  • Keep your pet's nails trimmed short. Ask your veterinarian or groomer to show you how. If your cat scratches excessively, consider declawing.
  • Tend to any animal bite right away to help prevent infection. Rinse the wound with cold running water. Disinfect with a "tamed iodine" such as Betadine solution (not Betadine soap). This is readily available at drug stores. After this first aid, always contact your physician.
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Preventive Veterinary Care
  • Keep pet vaccinations current.
  • At least once a year, take your pet for a checkup. If your pet shows signs of possible illness, such as persistent coughing, sneezing, weight loss, or diarrhea, contact your veterinarian right away.
  • Feed your pet commercial pet foods only.
  • Never feed your pets raw meat or unpasteurized milk.
  • Prevent coprophagia (stool eating). Don't let your pet eat its own or other animals' feces.
  • Keep your pet from drinking from the toilet bowl or rooting through the garbage.
  • No hunting allowed (especially for cats). Cats can catch toxoplasmosis from eating birds and rodents. If your cat must go outdoors you might consider placing a double bell on its collar to help scare off potential prey.
  • Keep your dog on a leash for walks to help control scavenging.
Cat Litter Boxes
  • Keep the litter box away from the kitchen and eating areas.
  • Change the litter box daily. It takes the Toxoplasma parasite at least 24 hours to become infectious. If possible have someone who is not at risk change the litter box.
  • Use disposable plastic liners and change them each time you change the litter.
  • Don't dump! If inhaled the dust could possible infect you. Gently seal the plastic liner with a twist tie and place in a plastic garbage bag for disposal.
  • Disinfect the litter box at least once a month by filling it with boiling water and letting it stand for five minutes. No other disinfecting method seems to kill the Toxoplasma organism.
  • Always wash your hands after cleaning the litter box.
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Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
The feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus are different from HIV. There is no evidence that either virus can infect people or that HIV can infect cats. These cat viruses, however, affect the immune system of cats in a way similar to the way HIV affects the human immune system. Cats that are infected with either of these cat viruses are more likely to catch diseases that may be passed on to you. It is probably best that you do not keep any cat that tests positive for feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus.

About Fish
Be cautious around aquariums to prevent contact with the water. Always wear protective gloves when adding water to a fish tank or cleaning it. Several people at risk have acquired unusual infections from the water in aquariums. Be especially careful if you have cuts or sores on your hands.

About Dogs
Although dogs are considered man's best friend, be sensitive and safe because dogs do carry some diseases that could be spread to you. Dogs are probably more risky if they drink out of the toilet.

About Birds
Birds carry some diseases that can be transmitted to people, but they are considered safe pets, especially if you are careful. An avian veterinarian should check all new birds.

Adopting New Pets
New pets present more of a risk because their health history is usually sketchy at best. Your veterinarian should examine all new pets; they may want to run some tests to screen for diseases and parasites. If you plan to adopt a cat, it is important to have it tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses before you expose it to any other cats, as both of these viruses are contagious among them. Puppies and kittens are more likely to be infected with diseases than mature animals. Be cautious around them. Animals to avoid include stray animals, animals with diarrhea, exotic animals, sick animals, wild animals, and monkeys.

Adapted from Safe Pet Guidelines, copyright 1991
Pets Are Wonderful Support
PO Box 460489, San Francisco, CA 94146
Tel. 415-824-4040

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