Holding On to Your Best Friend Is Just the Right Medicine
People with serious medical conditions often are led to believe that they should give up their pets. While it's true that some people with compromised immune systems may be more susceptible to some infections from some animals, giving up beloved companion animals isn't always necessary.
If you or someone who spends time with your pets has HIV/AIDS (or other conditions involving a compromised immune system), there are simple precautions you can take to minimize any chance of infection from your pets. Talk to your veterinarian and physician about what you can do to keep yourself, others, and your pets healthy. Have hope. You can keep your pet. Sometimes love is the best medicine of all.
Here are answers to common questions that can help you make the right choice for both you and your pet:
Q: Could I have been infected with HIV by a cat or dog? Can I infect my cat or dog?
A: No. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) only infects humans and other primates and, therefore, cannot be spread from or to dogs, cats, even birds, fish, or reptiles.
Q: I've had pets all my life and never had any problems. Why should I be worried now that I am infected with HIV?
A: Pets can carry zoonotic infections, that is, infections that are shared by people and pets. Because your resistance is low, you are more susceptible to these diseases now. But the good news is that you can minimize your risk by working with your veterinarian to test, medicate, and care appropriately for your pet.
Q: Can my friends get HIV infection by playing with my dog, cat, or bird or by helping me take care of them?
A: No. There is no evidence to suggest that dogs, cats, or birds can carry or transmit HIV to people.
Q: Just how dangerous is it for me to own a pet?
A: HIV-infected individuals contract zoonotic infections more often from contaminated food, water, soil, or even other people than from pets. Thus, for you, the advantages of pet ownership may far outweigh the risks. You will want to gather as much information as you can so that you can make the decision that is best for you and your pet.
Q: I don't yet have a pet. What should I look for?
A: New pets present a risk because they may come to you with little or no health history. You must take extra precautions. A veterinarian should examine all new pets for parasites and other diseases transmissible to people. Be especially careful with puppies, kittens, and reptiles, who are more likely to carry infections. For your pet's sake, select one whose energy level and exercise requirements match your exercise requirements.
Q: What other precautions should I take?
A: It is best to avoid contact with all sick animals, especially those with diarrhea. Also, avoid stray, exotic, and wild animals; reptiles; and monkeys. And find someone who, at a moment's notice, can help care for your pet.
From Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine
and The Humane Society of the United States, 1995.
The Benefits of Adopting a Mature Pet
Whether or not to adopt a mature pet depends on the individual expectations of the adopters, the makeup of their households, their lifestyles, and their commitment to the requirements of interacting with a creature who comes with a past history.
Fortunately, there are many people who prefer to share their homes with a mature adult animal rather than an infant.
One obvious advantage of a mature pet is that the person knows exactly what it will look like-its size, conformation, and weight. Many times an older pet has been housebroken, vaccinated, and sterilized. It is less destructive than a puppy or kitten, may be trained to simple commands, and be more tolerant of spending time alone during the day.
Another advantage is that the adult personality is generally well defined. This is important since its personality will determine if it fits into its adoptive family. In most cases, an older pet is well suited to fit in with senior adults, childless adults, or adults with older children- in other words a home where there is relative peace and quiet.
It may take a little longer to acclimate a senior dog or cat to its new home, because it has lived another life and must adapt to new surroundings, new expectations, new loved ones. However, the benefits to be reaped by the adopter are well worth the patience required to wait out this adjustment period. Not only do senior pets provide steadfast love and devotion, but there is the added satisfaction of knowing the pet is getting a second chance at life in a special home.
Your local Humane Society is a wonderful place to start your search for just the right animal companion.