Caring for Your Pet

Health Tip Sheet

Caring for Your Pet

Germs and Your Pet

Variety of pets-bird, dog, cat, rabbit, etc.Pets can be a great source of joy, laughter, excitement, and unconditional love. For some owners, pets are considered a part of the family. Studies have shown that pets can reduce stress and anxiety, and can help improve your overall mood.

Normally, your immune system makes sure that germs carried by your pet do not make you sick, but when you are undergoing chemotherapy, your immune system is weaker than usual. During this time, there are a few things to consider when caring for your pet.

Caring for Your Pet

These steps may help prevent germs carried by your pet from entering your body through scratches on your skin or through contact with your mouth (either directly or indirectly from your hands).

  • Protect your skin from direct contact with pet bodily waste (urine or feces) by wearing vinyl or household cleaning gloves when cleaning up after your pet. Wash your hands immediately afterwards.
  • Cover your hand with a plastic bag or vinyl or household cleaning glove to pick up waste when walking your dog and wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you return home.
  • Keep your cat's litter box away from eating areas. If possible, have someone else change the litter pan. If you must change the litter, wear vinyl or household cleaning gloves, and wash your hands immediately afterwards.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after playing with or caring for pets, especially before eating or handling food.
  • Avoid being scratched or bitten by your pet. If you do get scratched or bitten, immediately wash the wounds well with soap and water.
  • Stop your pet from licking your mouth or any open cuts or wounds you may have.
  • Keep your pet clean and take your pet to the veterinarian for regular check-ups and vaccinations.

Are there certain days I'm more at risk than others?

During your nadir, the period of time beginning 7–12 days after you finish each chemotherapy dose—and possibly lasting up to one week—is when you may be at the greatest risk for infection, you should avoid cleaning up after your pet, if possible. During this time, you might ask a friend or relative to take over these chores.

Learn more about nadir

Helpful Web Sites and References

American Cancer Society. (2003). Patient guidelines to help prevent fever and infections. Retrieved November 18, 2009, from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2007). Diseases from Dogs. Retrieved February 9, 2011, from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2007). Preventing infections from pets. Retrieved February 9, 2011, from

Marrs, J. A. (2006). Care of patients with neutropenia. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 10(2), 164–166.

Medline Plus. (2011). Pets and the immunocompromised person. Retrieved on April 7, 2011, from

National Cancer Institute. (2008). Managing chemotherapy side effects. Retrieved May 3, 2011, from

Rabinowitz, P., Zimra, G., & Odofin, L. (2007). Pet-related infections. American Family Physicians, 76(9), 1314–1322.

Education Materials

CDC created a variety of resources for patients and healthcare providers, including a quick reference sheet, fact sheets, posters, and videos.

"I never thought seriously about the risk of infection until I was hospitalized and unable to fight a fever. It’s so important to understand what steps you can take to help protect yourself."Donna Deegan, News AnchorBreast Cancer Survivor 

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