Can I Keep My Pets If I Have Cancer?

Take some precautions if you plan to care for pets during your chemotherapy

Woman petting dog on bed
Woman petting dog on bed. CaiaImageCLOSED

Pets can be a great source of comfort and companionship during cancer treatment. Cancer patients who are pet owners are often able to keep their pets in their home with a few modifications, unless they are hospitalized. You will have to take some extra precautions concerning cleaning up after your pets, such as cleaning the litter box and picking up dog waste, but you should have no problems keeping your pets with you during treatment.

It is a good idea to ask your oncologist his or her opinion about pet safety during chemotherapy.

Cleaning Up After Your Pets During Cancer Treatment

Most oncologists allow patients to change litter boxes during chemotherapy, but with caution. When changing your cat's litter box, you must take extra care to avoid being exposed to any parasites, bacteria, etc. When changing the litter box, always wear latex or rubber gloves, a mask, and be sure to wash your hands with soap and warm water afterward. A disposable litter box is also an option -- just toss the box into the trash every few days. If your white blood cell levels drop to a certain level after chemotherapy, your doctor may advise you to avoid cleaning your cat's litter box until your levels increase.

The same level of precaution should be practiced with cleaning up after your dog. Always wear a mask and rubber or latex gloves and wash hands afterward.

Make a Plan for Emergencies

Every pet owner should have an emergency plan in place, but cancer patients should be especially diligent. Enlist the help of a friend or family member who can care for your pet in your unexpected absence. If you do not have anyone who can care for your pets, explore the idea of temporary foster care in the event you need emergency care.

Your veterinarian may be able to recommend a suitable foster home if needed.

Be wary of boarding your animals or allowing them to go on "playdates" at the dog park. Even if your animal is up to date on their vaccinations, these may not provide full protection against contracting illnesses that can compromise your health.

Ensure Your Animals Are Healthy Before, During, and After Treatment

To prevent infection, make your animals are in good health before you begin treatment. A simple exam with your veterinarian can help to identify any health problems that may affect your personal health while undergoing chemotherapy. While bacterial, viral, and disease that animals develop often do not affect humans, they can compromise the pet's immune system, making them susceptible to infections that may compromise your health, especially during chemotherapy. During the exam, you may want to ask several questions, such as:

  • What infections can my pet give me?
  • How can I prevent my dog or cat from being infected with infections that may affect my health?
  • What can I do to safely prevent tick and flea infestation? (Ticks and fleas can carry bacteria that may impact your health).
  • Do you know of a foster family that may care for my animals if I need help?

Pet and Human Safety

There are a few tips you should follow to ensure your pet stays healthy during your cancer treatment. First, do not allow your pets to drink from the toilet. This spreads many infections and may expose your animal to toxins from your chemotherapy medications.

If your dog begins vomiting or has diarrhea, see a vet promptly. It is important to help identify the cause of the symptoms. But be careful: cleaning up vomit from animals also potentially puts you at risk of being exposed to bacteria and viruses.

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