Mission Statement
Human Animal Bond
Safe Pet Guidelines
Links of Interest
Pet FAQ's
Pals T-Shirts
Contact Us
Sonoma County Humane Society

Safe Pet Guidelines

Opportunistic Infections and Your Pets:

A guide for people with HIV Infection - © CDC Center for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Although the risks are low, people infected with HIV are at increased risk of getting an opportunistic infection from handling pets or other animals.
  • Several simple precautions are all you need to take while handling pets or other animals.
  • You can enjoy the many benefits of owning a pet.

If I'm infected with HIV, should I have pets?

Most people living with HIV infection can and should keep their pets because there are benefits from having pets. However, people with HIV infection should know the health-related risks from owning a pet or caring for animals. Animals may carry opportunistic infections that may be harmful to you. An infection is "opportunistic" because an HIV-infected person's weakened immune system gives the infection an opportunity to develop. Your decision to won or care for pets should be made with certain precautions in mind. If you plan to own a pet, you should also be educated about the type of pet you want.

What can I do to protect myself from opportunistic infections spread by animals?

To protect your pet and yourself from infection, be careful about what your pet eats and drinks. Feed your pet only commercial pet food, or cook all egg, poultry, and meat products thoroughly before giving to your pet. Do not let pets drink from toilet bowls or get into garbage. Pets should not be allowed to scavenge, hunt, or eat another animals stool.

Do not handle animals that have diarrhea. If the diarrhea lasts for more than 1 or 2 days, have a friend or relative take your pet to your veterinarian. Ask the veterinarian to specifically check for infections such as cryptosporidiosis, salmonellosis, and campylobacteriosis.

If you are getting a pet from a pet store, animal breeder, or animal shelter (pound), look into the sanitary conditions and licensing of these sources. If you are not sure about the animal's health, have it checked out by our veterinarian.

Do not touch stray animals because you could get scratched or bitten. Stray animals may carry opportunistic infections - or even rabies ( a deadly virus transmitted by animal bites).

Do not touch the stool of your pet. Always wash your hands after playing with or caring for animals. This is especially important before eating or handling food.

Infections Carried by Animals


Type of Organism



bacteria cat scratch skin lesions
bacteria animal stool diarrhea/blood infection
bacteria animal stool severe diarrhea
bacteria aquarium water skin lesions
bacteria animal stool diarrhea/blood infection
parasite cat stool brain infection

About Cats

You should be aware of the risks of certain infections such as toxoplasmosis and bartonellosis and of diarrheal illnesses caused by Salmonella or Campylobacter that can be spread by cats. If you choose to adopt or buy a cat, get one that is at least 1 year old and in good health. Older cats are less likely to carry infections that are harmful to you.

Clean litter boxes every day to further lower the risk for toxoplasmosis and diarrheal illnesses. someone who is not infected with HIV and is not pregnant should change the litter box. If you must clean the box, wear gloves and wash your hands immediately after changing the litter.

Keep your cat indoors to prevent it from hunting. these precautions will reduce your risk for toxoplasmosis and diarrheal illnesses.

To avoid being scratched or bitten by your cat, have its nails clipped. there may be other scratch prevention alternatives, such as the attachment of soft toenail tips, that you can discuss with your veterinarian. If you do get scratched or bitten, wash the wounds immediately to avoid s infection.


Cats can carry Toxoplasmosis and transmit it to people through their feces. This fact has made many "at risk" people wary of cats. But people also get this disease from eating inadequately cooked meat or from contact with dirt that has been contaminated with cat feces. Many of us are already infected with this organism, and recent studies show that most people with HIV disease that develop Toxoplasmosis are actually developing a "reactivation" of something they already had, but that didn't make them sick until their immune system deteriorated.
Thus, removing pet cats from "at risk" households will have little effect on the number of new cases of Toxoplasmosis seen with HIV disease. It is still very important to prevent the cat from becoming infected by following good hygiene habits and safe pet guidelines.

What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the single-celled parasite Toxoplasma gondii.

Who gets it?

All species of animals, including humans.

Why are cats blamed for Toxoplasmosis?

Cats are the only animal species to shed the infectious stage in their feces. All animals however, can disseminate Toxoplasmosis if their infected meat is eaten.

How do cats get it?

By eating rodents, raw meat, cockroaches, flies, or by contacting infected cats, infected cat feces, or contaminated soil.

What are the chances of my getting an infection?

Good, if your cat is allowed to hunt or is fed raw meat.

How will I know if my cat has Toxoplasmosis?

You probably won't since most infected cats show no symptoms, although sometimes there is transient diarrhea, or more rarely, other symptoms, such as pneumonia, hepatitis or neuralgic disease.

Should I worry about getting Toxoplasmosis from my pet cat?

Chances are unlikely you will acquire the infection from your cat, but caution is advised for high risk groups.

Should I test my cat for Toxoplasmosis?

Probably not--test results in cats are questionable and interpretation controversial. In fact, a positive, healthy cat is probably safer than a negative cat since it has already been exposed and is immune. A negative, healthy cat is probably susceptible to infection, and thus prevention is most important.

How do I prevent my cat from getting it?

Don't feed your cat raw meat, prevent your cat from hunting and keep your cat indoors.

How do I get it?

Rarely from an infected cat. Most commonly through ingestion of undercooked meats, unwashed fruits and vegetables, congenitally (in utero), or by not washing your hands after gardening or handling soil.

What happens if I get Toxoplasmosis?

It depends... If you are healthy--probably nothing, or flu-like symptoms such as fever, malaise or lymph node enlargement and/or soreness. If you are pregnant, and if and only if it's your first exposure--birth defects and possible fetal abortion/death. If you have an immunocompromised system-- possibly life-threatening central nervous system disorders.
Who needs to worry?

People with compromised immune systems
People with AIDS/HIV
People on chemotherapy
People who are aged
People with congenital immune deficiencies
Pregnant women (a fetus' immune system is not fully developed)

How do I know it I have been exposed to Toxoplasmosis?

You can get tested for it--consult your physician.

What if I have an immune system problem such as AIDS or I am on chemotherapy?

Most cases of Toxoplasmosis seen in people with immune system disorders are due to a reactivaiton of a previous infection. If you test positive for Toxoplasmosis, your physician may put you on a preventative therapy. If you test negative, be more cautious regarding prevention.

What if I am pregnant?

If you test negative and become infected with Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, you risk having a baby with birth defects. If you test positive, you already have had it, and therefore have built up antibodies to protect you and the fetus from a new infection.

Once infected, can I get it again?

It's very unlikely. After the first infection, it's like chicken pox--you don't get it again. But if your immune system becomes suppressed, an old infection can become reactivated. Since 15-50% of the U.S. population (depending on where live) has already been exposed, most cases of Toxoplasmosis in people with AIDS are a reactivation.

How can I prevent it?

Cook meats well, wash hands after handling raw meats, wash vegetables, wear gloves while gardening. Keep your cat healthy, and use caution around litter boxes. Always practice good hygiene.

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Both these viruses are different from the human (HIV) virus. Both are contagious among cats, but neither has been shown to infect humans, nor has the human virus been shown to infect cats. However, these diseases suppress the cat's immune system, making it more susceptible to other diseases which it could pass on to you.

Even though it would be difficult to part with your loving cat, it is probably best not to keep an FeLV or FIV positive cat if you have an immunosuppression problem yourself. If you do keep your cat, be extra careful about following the other safe pet guidelines.

Cat Scratch Disease

Cat Scratch Disease has been reported in people with AIDS (PWA). This is a bacterial disease that can be acquired from the scratch of a cat and is not the same as a cat scratch which can get secondarily infected. This disease is not completely understood, and there may be other sources of infection. It appears to be most commonly acquired from kittens, and thus declawing an older cat will unlikely change the risk of the disease. In general, this disease is still very uncommon in PWAs and is treatable. The present recommendation is to keep your cat's nails trimmed, monthly. If you get scratched by a cat, clean the wound with a tamed iodine solution such as Betadine, and call your physician for further advice. Do not let your cat lick any wounds you may have, as this is another way the disease appears to be spread. Declawing is an option you may consider, but this will be more likely to prevent frayed furniture than Cat Scratch Disease.

About Fish

Watching Fish swim has been shown to lower one's blood pressure. However, be cautious around the aquarium water since several people at risk have been shown to have acquired unusual infections from the water. Be especially careful if you have cuts or sores on your hands.

About Dogs

Although dogs are considered man's best friend, be sensible and follow safe pet guidelines. Dogs do carry some diseases that could be spread to you, and are probably more risky if they drink out of the toilet.

About Birds

Birds can carry some diseases that can be transmitted to people, but are considered safe pets, especially if you are careful. All new birds should be checked by an avian veterinarian.

Mycobacterium Avian

Mycobacterium Avian is a disease seen in PWAs, but is not typically transmitted to people directly from a bird. The infection is found everywhere in the environment, and as the immune system deteriorates, one becomes prone to this infection.

Questions About Birds

Can bird diseases make me sick?

Diseases such as Mycobacterium Avian Tuberculosis Complex (MAIS), psittacosis (parrot fever), salmonella, and allergic alveolitis are the primary diseases associated with pet birds that can potentially be transmitted to humans.

Should I worry about acquiring infections from my bird?

There is less chance of acquiring an infection from a bird than from a mammal, although a bird actively shedding the agent may transmit the disease.

What are the chances that my bird has one of these infections?

That depends on many things: The species of bird, it's source, age and general health status may dictate the likelihood of carrying an infection. A veterinarian experienced in avian medicine should be consulted to evaluate your particular situation.

Should my bird be tested?

Yes. All newly acquired birds in the parrot family should be screened for psittacosis. Your veterinarian is better able to evaluate other diseases for which your bird should be screened.

How do I prevent my bird from getting these diseases?

Never expose your bird to other birds (including pigeons and other wild birds) that have not been tested and quarantined for 45 days. Avoid casual contact such as going to the pet store for wing clips and nail trims. Ideally birds should be cared for at home rather than in a boarding facility.

Who can aquire these diseases?

Individuals with compromised immune systems are at highest risk, but any individual with increased contact with birds could become infected. Currently there are no known cases of transmission of psittacosis from a bird to a person with HIV, but the potential exists.

What if I have an immune system problem such as AIDS or I am on chemotherapy?

Then you could be considered at risk and the above information may be applicable. Other individuals at risk include: people who are elderly, those with congenital immune deficiencies or diabetics. Neonates as well as the fetus during pregnancy are at high risk also.

How do I get these diseases?

These diseases are transmitted by direct contact with stool and nasal discharges or breathing dried, powdered droppings. Breathing feather dander is the cause of allergic alveoliitis if you are sensitive to bird protein.

Which avian species are most likely to cause or transmit these diseases?

Imported birds are most likely to carry MAIS. Cockatiels have the highest incidence of psittacosis. Regarding allergic alveolitis, any bird can transmit this disease; however, cockatoos, cockatiels and amazons that produce more "powder" than other birds would be more potentially irritating.

How do I locate a veterinarian who has experience with birds?

Contact your state or local veterinary medical association or the Association of Avian Veterinarians at P.O. Box 811720, Boca Raton, FL 33481: Telephone: (407) 393-8901.

We would like to acknowledge Pets Are Wonderful Support, Education Department, PO Box 460489, San Francisco, CA 94146-0487 (415) 241-1460, Fax: (415) 252-9471 for this information. ©1998