are wonderful companions that add spark to many lives. They are "healing
helpers" that exert a positive impact on the ill and are incorporated in
many hospital patient recovery programs.
with compromised immune systems are a special need group as far as pets are
concerned. These people are more vulnerable to infections, parasites and
diseases transmitted from animals to people (zoonosis) and need to take extra
precautions around pets.
is estimated that there are several millions of Immunocodeficient people in the
United States. AIDS, organ transplant/cancer treatment, debilitating diseases,
malnutrition, congenital immunodeficiencies, diabetes mellitus, chronic renal
failure, alcoholism and liver cirrhosis, autoimmune diseases, major surgery,
splenectomy, long-term hemodialysis, pregnancy and old/very young age are some
of the causes of deficient immunity. Among
the most common infections associated with animals include Toxoplasma gondii,
Cryptosporidium spp, Salmonella spp, Campylobacter spp, Giardia sp, Rhodococcus
equi, Bartonella (Rochalimaea) spp, Mycobacterium marinum, and Bordetella
bronchiseptica. Salmonella and Campylobacter spp are the most common bacteriae
transmitted from animals but most of these infections are acquired from sources
other than pets. Many
of these people are advised to give up having pets, but very few will part from
many, the pet is a need, not a luxury. With the proper care, the risk of pet
related diseases becomes minimal. Immunocompromised pet owners should be
observant and seek veterinary care as soon as they notice problems in their
pets. They should be educated about common problems and available preventative
should be fed only high-quality commercial pet foods. They should not be allowed
to drink out of toilet bowls, outdoor water sources or have access to garbage
and materials of unknown origin. They should be closely supervised while
outside, unless they are in their own fenced yard. Pets should not be allowed to
scavenge, hunt, or eat feces. Immunocompromised people should wash their hands
after handling pets, especially before eating, and should avoid contact with
their pet's feces.
Cats and dogs owned by immunocompromised people should receive routine semi-annual veterinary care, including a physical examination, standard immunizations, and a fecal examination for intestinal parasites. Animals with diarrhea should have a fecal exam screened also for Salmonella, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium and Giardia spp and kept away from immunocompromised persons. Positive animals should be treated accordingly.
When acquiring a new pet, healthy adult animals are recommended. Young animals, especially those with diarrhea, should be avoided. Large breeding colonies and pet stores should be avoided because of sanitary variation and a closed infectious substrate.
A new pet needs to pass a veterinary exam and screening prior to contact with an immunosuppressed person. Cats are the definitive host of Toxoplasma gondii because they are the only animals that pass oocysts in their feces, which become infective. The shedding occurs during the first two to three weeks after infection. Prevention of Toxoplasmosis consists of daily cleaning of litter boxes that should never be placed near the kitchen. This should be done wearing rubber gloves or preferably by a healthy person. Direct transmission from cats is unlikely.
Cats should not be allowed to hunt and should not be fed raw or undercooked meat. Because outdoor cats frequently defecate in gardens and T gondii oocysts may survive for months under appropriate conditions, immunosuppressed people should wear gloves when gardening or working with soil and wash their hands afterwards. Salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis may be the most common infections acquired from cats and are prevented as described above. Bacillary angiomatosis or cat scratch disease causes fever, serious skin lesions, and life-threatening systemic disease. Prolonged antibiotic treatment is effective. Kittens pose a higher risk
Pet birds pose a low risk, but reptiles are a known source of Salmonella and are not recommended. Small rodents, such as hamsters and gerbils, can also transmit Salmonella, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, and Giardia infections.Ornamental fish have caused several Mycobacterium marinum infections in HIV-infected persons.Young farm animals, especially with diarrhea, may carry Cryptosporidium spp.
In conclusion, immunosuppressed people do not need to give up the joy of pet companionship. They simply need to know about the special care and to keep consistent communication with the veterinarian.[Back]