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.
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 Answers.com and is republished with permission.
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.