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Pets are wonderful! Anyone who's ever lived with a companion animal knows the unconditional love and acceptance we receive is unlike what we generally experience with our human relationships. This is especially important to us when our human contact diminishes through, for example, aging or isolation by disease.

Animals can bring a unique sense of continuity, stability, and love to our lives; in fact, studies indicate that companion animals have a positive influence on the quality of life for the aging and ill. If our immune system becomes suppressed through age, disease, or medical treatments, we become more vulnerable to infections, and may become more fearful of contact with other living creature, including our companion animals.

While there are a number of diseases we can catch from animals, cases of people with HIV/AIDS who have contracted infections from their pets are rare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also states that there is no evidence that dogs, cats, or any other non-primate animals can contract the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or transmit it to people.

Zoonoses: --No, it's not what you find on the faces of elephants and kiwis. Zoonoses (pronounced ZO-e-NO-sez) refers to those diseases that can be contracted by humans from other animals. Until recently, zoonotic diseases touched few lives in this country.

Unfortunately, with the AIDS epidemic, the situation changed. Suddenly, we had a tremendous increase in the number of people with suppressed immune systems, a condition which made them more susceptible to all kinds of diseases, including the zoonoses. People need to know about the risks of catching diseases from their pets. Current evidence supports the fact that pets pose a minimal risk.

Initially there was considerable confusion in the medical community about the wisest course of action for the immunosuppressed pet owner. The aim of this organization and those like it is to eliminate that confusion. We will update regularly as new information becomes available.

If you are immunosuppressed and either have a pet or want to get one, you should carefully review these recommendations with your physician and your veterinarian.


Follow these guidelines to help keep your pets healthy. Keep in mind that a little preventative care can go a long way in maintaining your animals health, and a healthy animal is less likely to pick up diseases and transmit them to you.

People at Risk

People with compromised immune systems

People with AIDS/HIV

People on chemotherapy

People on who have received organ or bone marrow transplants

People who are elderly

People born with congenital immune deficiencies

Pregnant women (a fetus' immune system is not fully developed)

Grooming /Flea Control

Keep your pet clean and well groomed. Have your animal bathed, brushed, and combed as needed to keep the skin and coat healthy.

Keep your animal's toenails trimmed to minimize the risk of your being scratched. If necessary, ask you vet about rubber caps that can be placed on your cat's nails.

A clean environment is important. Keep your pet's living and feeding areas clean.
Wash your pets bedding regularly.
Use good flea control. Consult with your veterinarian about the best available products.

Safe Litter Box Guidelines

Keep the box away from the kitchen and eating areas.

Change the litter box daily. It takes the Toxoplasma parasite at least 24 hours to become infectious. If possible, have someone do it who is not at risk.

Use disposable plastic liners and change them each time you change the litter.

Don't dump! If inhaled, the resultant dust could possibly infect you. Gently seal the plastic liner with a twist tie and place in a plastic garbage bag for disposal.

Disinfect the litter box at least once a month by filling it with boiling water and letting it stand for five minutes. This will kill the Toxoplasma organism.

wear disposable gloves for extra protection, and always wash your hands after cleaning the litter box.

Preventive Veterinary Medicine

Have all new animals examined by a veterinarian.

Have your animal examined by a veterinarian at least once each year.

Keep vaccinations current.

Have your pet's feces checked by a veterinarian periodically for parasites.

Have your cat (particularly a new cat or an outdoor cat) checked for the Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).

Animal Bites

Tend to any animal bite right away to help prevent infection. Rinse the wound with cold running water. Disinfect with a "tamed iodine" such as Betadine solution (not Betadine soap). This is readily available at drug stores. After this first aid, always contact your physician.


The following are ways to prevent your pet from acquiring diseases that can be passed on to humans:

Feed your pet a high quality commercial diet that is designed for your animal and his or her stage of life.

Never feed your pets raw or undercooked meat or unpasteurized milk. Keep in mind that microwaving may not heat meat sufficiently to kill organisms in it.

Prevent coprophagia (stool eating)! Never let your pet eat it's own or other animal's feces.

Provide plenty of fresh, clean water. Don't let your pet from drink from the toilet bowls.

Prevent your animal from raiding the trash.

Prevent your animal from hunting. Cats can catch Toxoplasmosis from eating birds and rodents. If your cat goes outdoors, supervise it or place two bells on the collar to help warn potential prey.

Keep your dog on a leash for walks to help control scavenging.

Adopting a New Animal

Adopting a new animal companion is always exciting, but keep in mind that new pets, especially puppies and kittens, present more of a risk. If you are going to adopt a new pet, an adult animal is safer. consult your veterinarian and physician before adopting a new animal. Your veterinarian may recommend some tests for parasites and other diseases on a new animal. It is best not to take a new animal into your home until you know that he or she is healthy.

Pets To Avoid

Unfortunately some animals simply present too much risk to immunocompromised people and should be avoided altogether:

Stray animals

Animals with diarrhea

Reptiles (turtles, lizards, and snakes) and amphibians

Farm animals

Wild animals and birds, including pigeons

Non-human primates (monkeys): Non-human primates carry the greatest risk because of their close genetic relationship to humans. these animals should not be pets under any circumstances. It is also good to remember that the humans in the household pose just as many risks to the animal.

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