Pet Infections and Protecting Yourself If You Have HIV

Types of Pet Infections and How to Protect Yourself

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Pets are a huge part of many people's lives, bringing companionship and comfort — but with this joy comes risk. Pets do carry infections that may pose a risk to people who have a weak immune system, like those with HIV.

Learn about keeping pets if you have HIV and how you can stay healthy. 

May I Keep My Pets? 

Yes. Most people with HIV may keep their pets. Owning a pet can be rewarding and may help a person feel psychologically and even physically better.

For many people, pets are more than just animals — they are like members of the family.

However, a person with HIV should know the health risks of owning a pet or caring for animals. Animals may carry infections that can be harmful to a person living with HIV — which weakens a person's immune system

What Kinds of Infections Can I Get from Animals?

Animals can have cryptosporidiosis ("crypto"), toxoplasmosis ("toxo"), Mycobacterium avium complex ("MAC"), and other diseases. These diseases cause problems like severe, diarrhea, brain infections, and skin lesions. 

How Can I Protect Myself?

  • Always wash your hands well with soap and water after playing with or caring for animals. This is especially important before eating or handling food.
  • Be careful about what your pet eats and drinks. Feed your pet only pet food or cook all meat thoroughly before giving it to your pet. Don't give your pet raw or undercooked meat. Don't let your pets drink from toilet bowls or get into the garbage. Don't let your pets hunt other animals or eat another animal's stool.
  • Don't handle animals that have diarrhea. If the pet's diarrhea lasts for more than 1or 2 days, have a friend or relative who does not have HIV take your pet to the veterinarian.
  • Don't bring home an unhealthy pet. Don't get a pet that is younger than 6 months old, especially if it has diarrhea. If you are getting a pet from a pet store, animal breeder, or animal shelter, check the sanitary conditions and license of these sources. If you are not sure about the animal's health, have it checked out by a veterinarian.
  • Don't touch stray animals because you could get scratched or bitten. Stray animals can carry many infections.
  • Don't ever touch the stool of any animal.
  • Ask someone who is not infected with HIV and is not pregnant to change your cat's litter box daily. If you must clean the box yourself, wear vinyl or household cleaning gloves and immediately wash your hands well with soap and water right after changing the litter.
  • Have your cat's nails clipped so it can't scratch you. Discuss other ways to prevent scratching with your veterinarian. If you do get scratched or bitten, immediately wash the wounds well with soap and water.
  • Don't let your pet lick your mouth or any open cuts or wounds you may have.
  • Don't kiss your pet.
  • Keep fleas off your pet.
  • Avoid reptiles such as snakes, lizards, and turtles. If you touch any reptile, immediately wash your hands well with soap and water.
  • Wear vinyl or household cleaning gloves when you clean aquariums or animal cages and wash your hands well right after you finish.
  • Avoid exotic pets such as monkeys, and ferrets, or wild animals such as raccoons, lions, bats, and skunks.

If you are ever bitten by an animal, seek medical attention right away. 

Should I Quit My Job if I Work With Animals?

Jobs working with animals — such as jobs in pet stores, animal clinics, farms, and slaughterhouses —carry a risk for infections. Talk with your doctor about whether you should work with animals. People who work with animals should take these extra precautions:

  • Follow your worksite's rules to stay safe and reduce any risk of infection. Use or wear personal protective gear, such as coveralls, boots, and gloves.
  • Don't clean chicken coops or dig in areas where birds roost if histoplasmosis is found in the area.
  • Don't touch young farm animals, especially if they have diarrhea.

Are There Any Tests a Pet Should Have Before I Bring it Home?

A pet should be in overall good health. You don't need special tests unless the animal has diarrhea or looks sick. If your pet looks sick, your veterinarian can help you choose the tests it needs.

What Should I Do When I Visit Friends or Relatives Who Have Animals?

When you visit anyone with pets, take the same precautions you would in your own home. Don't touch animals that may not be healthy. You may want to tell your friends and family about the need for these precautions before you plan any visits.

Source: Adapted from brochures provided by the Centers for Disease Control, 2000.

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