When Brent Williams needed chemotherapy after being diagnosed with cancer, one of his concerns was for the safety of his two cats. Would he need to manage them differently or, worse, not manage them at all?
If you are being treated for cancer – or if your pet is – you, like Williams, may have concerns about how the treatment might affect others around you, or whether your pet’s treatment company could be dangerous for you. Generally, the risks are low, but safe handling procedures can further reduce them, regardless of who is being treated.
The good news for Williams and other human cancer patients is that the amount of active drug excreted from the body when a human or pet patient receives chemotherapy is “extremely low,” says Craig Clifford, DVM, oncologist. veterinarian at Blue Pearl in Malvern, Pennsylvania.
That said, it’s always wise to take precautions. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada website contains the following recommendations:
• Have another family member pick up the litter or poo. If that’s not possible, wear gloves (and a mask if picking up litter) and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
• Take pets that sneeze, vomit, or have diarrhea to the vet to make sure they don’t have an infection they could pass on to you.
• Keep animal claws trimmed to avoid scratches. Cancer patients have weakened immune systems and can easily develop infections from wounds.
• Avoid coming into contact with reptiles, chickens, ducks and rodents, which can carry salmonella and other infectious pathogens.
Being treated with topical chemotherapy? Prevent licking animals from licking treated areas, which could expose them to a high volume of medication, Clifford says.
What if your pet is the one receiving chemotherapy? Take precautions when handling oral chemotherapy drugs. If you administer the pills at home, the clinic will likely send you home with special gloves to protect your hands when giving the pill. We wore them when we administered medication to our dog Harper when she was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of her mouth almost two years ago.
“When we talk about the exposure associated with it, it’s very low and we’re trying to further reduce the risk of exposure,” says Clifford. “It makes sense to have an extra layer of protection by having them wear gloves.”
Then carefully remove the gloves so that they are inside out and dispose of them as directed. Do not reuse them. Then wash your hands thoroughly.
Pets receiving intravenous chemotherapy can excrete drugs in their urine and feces for up to seven days. The North Carolina State Veterinary Hospital recommends having them urinate and defecate in an outdoor area that is not used by other pets. Choose a sunny location if possible; ultraviolet light is thought to inactivate many drugs. It’s also a good idea to dilute the urine by rinsing the area with water afterwards. Clean cat litter boxes daily. Put the litter in a double bag and throw it in the garbage.
Wash your hands for at least 5 minutes if you come into direct contact with urine, feces or vomiting. If your pet has an accident in the house that you need to clean up, wear gloves, avoid high-pressure sprays, and use disposable towels, advises the NCSVH. Double the solid waste in a bag, dry the liquid waste and clean the area with detergent and diluted bleach.
Wash bedding, towels and pet toys separately from other laundry and use bleach to be safe. Also wash pet bowls separately, using hot soapy water.
Keep oral or topical medications out of reach of pets and children. It’s generally okay to give oral medications inside a treat, but make sure they actually go through the trap door. Gently stroke your pet’s throat to encourage swallowing. Do not give medicine by opening capsules or by splitting or crushing pills, which disturbs the protective film coating.
If you still have questions or concerns, talk to your pet’s oncologist or your own.
Do you have a question about pets? Send it to [email protected] or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker. Pet Connection is produced by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, journalist Kim Campbell Thornton and dog trainer/behavioral consultant Mikkel Becker.