Should you sleep with your pet if you have cancer? - (12/26/2017)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Mrs. Blake came into the pharmacy and said to the pharmacist, “Ever since my daughter, Susie, got a puppy, the dog has been sleeping on her bed. She keeps getting a rash. Do you think she is allergic to that animal?” The pharmacist reminded her that there are many things a 12-year old could be allergic to – from detergents to her newly found passion for makeup, to certain foods. The pharmacist suggested that Susie try an antihistamine cream and see if that resolves the rash. If the rash doesn’t abate, her doctor should be called. 

We know 3 things about dogs and cats. First, they do not wear shoes. So wherever they have been, whatever is on their feet is now on your (once) clean sheets. Second, they do not brush their teeth. So if they like to slobber your face, then think of where else that tongue has been. Third, they do not use toilet paper. Supply your own image of that here. Yet, there are people who will fight for their right to have Fido and/or Fluffy on the pillow with their butts right next to their face.  

However, there are many people who have conditions that may warrant banishing their pets from the bedroom because they can incur infections from them. They are people who have cancer, including lymphoma and leukemia (mostly during treatment), cirrhosis of the liver, had an organ transplant, had their spleen removed, or who have HIV/AIDS. Also, people who take high doses of steroids for inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis may have weakened immune systems. These people are immunocompromised and may be advised to give up their pets if and when their immune systems become stronger. 

Give up my pet? No way, you say. If you decide to keep your pet, you and your family must be aware of the risk of diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. Here are some tips from the National Institutes of Health. First, ask your veterinarian for information on infections that you might get from your pets. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling or touching your pet, cleaning the litter box, or disposing of pet feces. Make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date. If you plan to adopt a pet, get one that is over 1 year old; kittens and puppies are more likely to scratch and bite. Have your pets spayed or neutered. Neutered animals are less likely to roam, and therefore, are less likely to bring home germs.

Have your cat tested for feline leukemia (FL). Although the virus that causes FL does not spread to humans, it affects the cat's immune system. This puts your cat at risk for other infections that may be spread to humans. Cats can get infections, such as toxoplasmosis, by eating wild animals – notably mice. DO NOT let your pet drink from the toilet. Several infections can be spread this way. Take measures to prevent flea or tick infestations. Bacterial and viral infections are spread by these parasites. 

Also, do not adopt wild or exotic animals. These animals are more likely to bite. They can transmit rare but serious diseases. Reptiles carry a type of bacteria called salmonella. If you own a reptile, wear gloves when handling the animal or its feces because salmonella is easily passed from animals to humans. Wear rubber gloves when handling or cleaning fish tanks. For more information on pet-related infections, contact your veterinarian or the Humane Society in your area. Luckily, Susie’s puppy was not the cause of her rash. But if you have a weakened immune system, keep your cleanliness a priority. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Read more at

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