Can immocompromised people own cats? Absolutely! Cats can be great companions for anyone. Sometimes having a kitty helps people with disabilities and chronic illnesses to better cope with their situation. However, there are some things that immunocompromised people have to be more careful about than people with healthy immune systems.
Title Image Credit: Keller Holmes via Flickr
Zoonotic Diseases and Immunocompromised People
Humans do not need to worry about contracting most feline diseases. Diseases like FIV and Feline Leukemia can not cross species lines to humans. However, there are a handful of zoonotic diseases (diseases that can cross over to humans from animals) that cats can carry. These zoonotic diseases related to cats include salmonella (bacteria), giardia (parasites), ringworm (fungal infection), and more. You can find information about current outbreaks of zoonotic diseases (not necessarily cat related) on the CDC website.
Everyone reacts to zoonotic diseases differently. Get your doctor’s advice if you believe a disease may have passed from your cat. Humans with normally functioning immune systems can fight off many of these diseases completely. Sometimes your doctor will recommend medications to help fight the disease.
Immunocompromised people face a different set of challenges when it comes to fighting disease. Their immune systems may not have enough resources to fight off even the least threatening diseases. Infections that might only be a nuisance to a person with a healthy immune system can cause life-threatening issues for an immunocompromised person.
Tip #1: Talk to Your Veterinarian
One way to make sure that you won’t be catching any zoonotic diseases from your cat is to make sure your cat isn’t carrying any of them. Regular visits to the veterinarian can help to make sure your cat is healthy and catch any illnesses early. Tell your veterinarian that you are immunocompromised so that they can help you make the best health care plan for you and your cat. Treatments like vaccines and parasite preventatives could keep some diseases from ever entering your home.
Tip #2: Keep Your Cat Indoors
You can’t control what your cat will get into outdoors, but you do have control over what is in your home. Outdoor cats are exposed to illnesses carried by other cats and parasites (fleas, ticks, etc). Keeping your cat indoors limits the potential for exposure and thus, your exposure, to any of these problems.
Tip #3: Handle Cat Food Carefully
As a rule of thumb, immocompromised people should always wear gloves when handling cat food. It doesn’t matter if you feed your cat dry food, wet food, or a raw diet, there could be dangerous bacteria lurking there. Many cat food recalls are done for dry cat food because of contamination with salmonella bacteria or listeria. Use the same precautions for handling cat food that you would use if you were handling raw meat in preparation for your own meals. Don’t forget to wash your hands when you are finished.
After your cat has had his/her meal, be sure to thoroughly wash and sanitize the cat’s dishes and feeding area. Wearing gloves while doing this cleaning is advisable. Leaving dirty dishes or placemats out only gives bacteria a chance to grow in your home.
Tip #4: Use Gloves and Dust Mask When Cleaning
There are some messes that are a part of any cat owners life. Wear gloves and a dust mask when cleaning your cat’s litter box. This simple solution will be able to keep bacteria, parasites (like toxoplasma gandhi), and other potential dangers at bay. It also helps if you scoop your cat’s litter box at least once per day and clean it often. The more often it is cleaned, the less bacteria that can build up inside it.
Immunocompromised people may also want to wear gloves and a dust mask while doing other cleaning around the home. It is possible that bacteria can get tracked around your home. Be sure to wash your hands after all of your cleaning is done.
Tip #5: Create an Emergency Plan Now
Frequent illness is something that many immunocompromised people face. Talk to your friends and loved ones now and create a plan for who will care for your cat if you become too ill to do so. Introduce this caretaker to your cat so that he/she will be a familiar face. Having a stranger come into the home will only be another stressor for your cat when he/she is already concerned about your illness.
Make a written care plan for your caretaker. Include what type of food your cat eats, their feeding schedule, favorite toys, veterinarian’s phone number, type of cat litter, medications, and any other information the caretaker might need. If you become ill suddenly, it might not be very easy to relay this information. Give a copy to your caretaker and place a copy in a prominent place (like on the refrigerator) where it will be easy to find.
Are there any other tips you would offer an immunocompromised cat owner?
Sources & Digging Deeper