Can cancer patients be around pets?


Q: Is it true that cancer patients can't be around pets? We have a dog and three cats that are very healthy. I love my nephew, but his Mom tells us the pets can't be around him and she won't let him come visit. 

A: Pets provide many positive experiences for people with cancer. However, dogs, cats, reptiles, birds, and other pets may also carry germs that can cause infections. Very young children, who may suck their fingers or not wash their hands carefully after playing with animals, could be more susceptible. And any patient with a lowered white blood cell count also has an increased risk of getting infections.

Cancer patients can enjoy pets, but should have someone else clean up the dog droppings, scoop or change the cat litter box, clean cages and aquariums, and take on other care duties, such as grooming and washing pet bedding. Don’t place litter boxes in the kitchen or anywhere else where food is prepared or served. Patients should also not garden in, or touch, soil that contains animal or human feces.

Pets are also at risk from humans. To prevent poisonings, keep all medications away from areas pets can reach. Certain radiation therapies require patients to keep a distance from other people for several hours after treatment. The same precaution should be taken with pets.

--Kathy Newman, RN, BSN

With a few precautions, cancer patients can benefit from a pet.

This content was last reviewed August 15, 2010 by Dr. Reshma L. Mahtani.
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