Opportunistic Infections and Your Pets
Should I Keep My Pets?
Most people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can and should keep their
pets. Owning a pet can be rewarding. Pets can help you feel psychologically and
even physically better. For many people, pets are more than just animals --
they are like members of the family. However, you should know the health risks
of owning a pet or caring for animals. Animals may carry infections that can be
harmful to you. Your decision to own or care for pets should be based on
knowing what you need to do to protect yourself from these
What Kinds of Infections Could I Get from an Animal?
Animals can have cryptosporidiosis ("crypto"), toxoplasmosis
("toxo"), Mycobacterium avium complex ("MAC"), and
other diseases. These diseases can give you problems like severe diarrhea,
brain infections, and skin lesions. You can learn more about many of these
diseases and how to prevent them from other brochures in this series. These are
listed at the end of this article.
What Can I Do to Protect Myself from Infections Spread by Animals?
- Always wash your hands
well with soap and water after playing with or caring for animals. This is
especially important before eating or handling food.
- Be careful about what
your pet eats and drinks. Feed your pet only pet food or cook all meat
thoroughly before giving it to your pet. Don't give your pet raw or undercooked
meat. Don't let your pets drink from toilet bowls or get into garbage. Don't
let your pets hunt or eat another animal's stool (droppings).
- Don't handle animals
that have diarrhea. If the pet's diarrhea lasts for more than 1or 2 days, have
a friend or relative who does not have HIV take your pet to your veterinarian.
Ask the veterinarian to check the pet for infections that may be the cause of
- Don't bring home an
unhealthy pet. Don't get a pet that is younger than 6 months old -- especially
if it has diarrhea. If you are getting a pet from a pet store, animal breeder,
or animal shelter (pound), check the sanitary conditions and license ofthese
sources. If you are not sure about the animal's health, have it checked out by
- Don't touch stray
animals because you could get scratched or bitten. Stray animals can carry many
- Don't ever touch the
stool of any animal.
- Ask someone who is not
infected with HIV and is not pregnant to change your cat's litter box daily. If
you must clean the box yourself, wear vinyl or household cleaning gloves and
immediately wash your hands well with soap and water right after changing the
- Have your cat's nails
clipped so it can't scratch you. Discuss other ways to prevent scratching with
your veterinarian. If you do get scratched or bitten, immediately wash the
wounds well with soap and water.*
- Don't let your pet
lick your mouth or any open cuts or wounds you may have.
- Don't kiss your
- Keep fleas off your
- Avoid reptiles such as
snakes, lizards, and turtles. If you touch any reptile, immediately wash your
hands well with soap and water.
- Wear vinyl or
household cleaning gloves when you clean aquariums or animal cages and wash
your hands well right after you finish.
- Avoid exotic pets such
as monkeys, and ferrets, or wild animals such as raccoons, lions, bats, and
*If you are bitten, you may need to seek medical