In the last decade the idea that pets can be beneficial to people living with HIV has become an accepted principle. Pet facilitated therapy programs are springing up across the country. Almost every week a new paper appears showing a positive correlation between contact with animals and improved emotional outlook and health stability. Persons living with HIV often deal with feelings of isolation, rejection and lack of purpose. For such people companion animals offer purpose, a feeling of being needed, a way to increase socialization and, of course, a constant source of non-judgmental love and affection. Years ago many physicians were telling their patients "I don't care what kind of animal it is ... get rid of it!" Well, times are changing. As more and more information has become available about diseases that can be acquired from animals (called zoonoses or zoonotic diseases) and the potent positive aspects of the human-animal bond, the attitude of the medical community has changed.
This is not to say that there are no potential health risks to people with HIV who own pets; there are. The final decision as to whether or not to keep a beloved pet rests with the person ... after consultation with their physician. The best kind of decision is an informed one, not one based on fear or intimidation.
People with AIDS and other diseases of the immune system are constantly threatened with opportunistic infections. Some opportunistic infections can be traced to zoonoses. While there is no sure way to completely eliminate exposure or transmission of zoonotic diseases, there are many ways to reduce the possibility of exposure or transmission.
This guide is not intended to present information on the entire range of zoonotic diseases nor is it the final word. When reading the guide several thoughts should be kept in mind:
- There are more than two-hundred zoonotic disease, but most, in an urban environment, are rare. Many are vocation related or species specific. Others are more likely to be prevalent in a rural environment.
- The vectors (carriers/transmitters) of many zoonoses are not necessarily domesticated house pets (e.g.- dogs, cats, birds.) They may include humans, farm animals, feral animals and exotic animals sold as house pets. Individuals coming in contact with these animals should contact their veterinarian for information beyond what is covered in this brochure.
- Often zoonotic diseases diagnosed in people with AIDS were contracted prior to obtaining a house pet.
It is the intention of this guide to present a general overview of the more common zoonotic diseases of concern to people with HIV and to provide specific guidelines to reduce possible exposure or transmission.
- Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating, smoking or attending to open wounds.
- Keep your pet's quarters (eating, living) clean.
- Keep your pet clean and well groomed. Dogs should be bathed regularly. If allergies or respiratory problems are of concern consider keeping your dog's coat short. Some long haired cats do not mind a regular bath and thinning of their undercoat.
- Keep your cat's litter box out of the kitchen. Also avoid placing it in a very warm dry location such as near a radiator... and change it daily.
- Keep your cat off all kitchen surfaces. If not possible, be sure to wipe down any surface on which food may be placed with a gentle disinfectant.
- Try to avoid contact with your pet's bodily fluids. This includes vomitus, urine, feces and saliva. Gloves should be worn if a mess must be cleaned up. When finished dispose of the gloves or, if non-disposable, wash them while your hands are still in them. Then wash your hands. If possible, have someone clean the mess up for you.
- Keep your pet's nails well trimmed. If you do not know how ask your groomer or veterinarian to show you.
- Try and avoid allowing your pet to lick your face or any open wound.
- Make every effort to eliminate vermin such as mice (possible carriers of toxoplasmosis), flies and cockroaches. Fleas should be attended to immediately. Remember, you must simultaneously eliminate fleas (and eggs) both on your pet and in your home.
- Animal bites should be treated immediately. Rinse with cold water and disinfect with a solution such as Betadine. Consult your physician.
- Have your pet to the veterinarian at least once a year. Keep your dog/cat up to date on annual shots and rabies vaccination.
- Use only commercially prepared pet foods. Do not feed your pets raw or partially cooked meats. Raw meat can be a source of toxoplasmosis, salmonellosis and listeriosis.
- Keep your dog away from the feces of other animals.
- Cats should be kept indoors; hunting birds and rodents should not be allowed.
- Street animals that are "adopted" should first be checked by a veterinarian before being brought into the house especially if you already have a pet. If possible, do not allow any animals near your pets unless you know for sure that they are up to date on all vaccinations and have tested negative for feline leukemia and FIV.
- Do not allow your pet to drink from the commode.
- Keep your dog leashed when on walks. Do not allow him/her to root in garbage.
Pet Guidelines for People Living With HIV/AIDS is prepared and edited by POWARS with the participation of: Jane Bicks, D.V.M., Tom DeVincentis, D.V.M., Steve Kohn, Executive Director. POWARS, once located in New York City was dissolved in late 1998.
This brochure is intended to present information to people with HIV/AIDS and concerned friends. It is not to be regarded as providing medical advice. Please consult with your own health care provider(s) for medical advice related to your particular situation. Additional information concerning zoonoses can also be obtained from your veterinarian.