Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: November 1, 2022 by Crystal Uys


Millions of Americans have conditions that compromise their immune system, including diabetes, kidney failure, HIV, autoimmune disease, organ transplants, and cancer. While some physicians still advise these patients to get rid of their cats, many studies have shown the value of pet ownership for immunocompromised people on both mental and physical health. By following simple, common sense guidelines, immunocompromised patients can minimize the risk of infection without having to give up their feline family members.

Possible risks

Diseases transmitted from animals to humans are called zoonoses. The most common diseases that may pose a threat to humans are intestinal infections caused by salmonella and Campylobacter or Cryptospiridium bacteria, cat scratch disease, which is caused by the Bartonella bacteria, and toxosplasmosis, which is caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. Two fungal diseases, dermatomycosis (also called ringworm) and sporotrichosis, are also zoonotic and may cause infections of the skin in humans.

Simple precautions minimize risk of infection

The following guidelines will help protect immunocompromised individuals:

Always wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling your cat.

Practice safe food handling for all cat food, including dry and raw food. This means washing off all surfaces and utensils that touched the food, and not preparing any other food on the same surface until it has been thoroughly cleaned. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling cat food. If you feed your cat a raw meat diet, you do not have to discontinue this practice if you are immunocompromised. The majority of recent pet food recalls have been for DRY food contaminated with salmonella.

Litter boxes should be scooped daily. Have someone else perform this task. If that’s not an option, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands with soap and warm water afterwards.

Avoid handling cats who have diarrhea. If you must handle a cat with diarrhea, wear disposable gloves.

Avoid touching stray cats.

Keep your cat’s nails trimmed to avoid getting scratched. Do not declaw your cat: declawing is inhumane, and declawed cats may bite instead of scratching, which increases the risk of infection.

Make sure your cat gets regular veterinary check ups.

Following these precautions, and working in partnership with your veterinarian and your physician, will ensure that you can keep your cat through your illness.

This article was previously published on and is republished with permission.

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7 Comments on Precautions to Take When You’re You’re Immunocompromised and Living With Cats

  1. The CDC Healthy Pets Healthy People ( and PAWS (Pets are Wonderful Support) ( also have some great resources for immunocompromised folks who own cats or any other kind of pet.

    Pet’s are so valuable to us while we make it through an illness, these folks help us find ways to keep our pets and stay healthy!

  2. I do not know what I would have done without my cats during my 7 months of cancer surgery and chemo and the months of physical recovery. They were one of my rocks and comfort during that time!

  3. Great post. I could never get rid of my cats no matter how sick I would be. They are a comfort to me.

  4. Great post, and such an important reminder. Unfortunately, many medical professionals seem to jump to the immediate conclusion that cats need to go without stopping to look at the alternatives (like having someone else clean the listterbox). It’s great to see this being addressed so that hopefully less cats will find themselves homeless just when their owners need their emotional support most of all.

  5. When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer the first thing that my children said was that I would have to get rid of my cats! To which my Oncologist replied, ” We do NOT get rid of moms cats, but someone else WILL clean the litter box”. I had surgery and chemotherapy and did not have a problem concerning my cats!! My cats, my babies, were a wonderful comfort to me and I would have been lost without them!! Lesson learned, and remembered… you do NOT have to rid yourself of your kitties during cancer/chemo!!

  6. excellent post!! I am fortunate not to have any problems with my cats. . .but what a world of good they do for me!!

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