Should Transplant Recipients Have Pets?
Alex Harrison-Flaxman is a kidney transplant recipient who understands the rollercoaster of emotions that patients face after transplant.
“Being a transplant recipient is an absolute blessing, but it doesn’t come without its challenges,” says Harrison-Flaxman. “It’s a constant battle to stay vigilant and be on top of your care. But having my dog Bendel makes it a little more bearable when my anxiety is high, and the road ahead seems impossible.”
Up to 63% of transplant recipients experience depression or anxiety during the first several years post-transplant.1 This makes organ transplant recipients ideal candidates for owning pets that—through companionship—provide emotional support, ease anxiety, depression, and other phobias.
Harrison-Flaxman said that Bendel, a Cockapoo, which is a cocker spaniel-poodle mix, always knows when she needs him to comfort her and just be close.
“He lifts my mood and keeps me smiling with his silliness.”
Harrison-Flaxman isn’t alone.
[@SalesJourney on Instagram] shared their dog Louis saved their life.
“While on dialysis, I got really low and struggled to keep positive and keep pushing,” shared [@SalesJourney]. “But my commitment to always be there to take care of him and his love of cuddles and walks always got me through.”
Words of Caution for Transplant Recipients
There are indisputable positives for transplant recipients who have pets. However, along with the pros do come a few concerns which all transplant recipients and their families should understand.
First, people with suppressed immune systems, like organ transplant recipients, are at an elevated risk for acquiring serious and potentially life-threatening infection—some of which can be “zoonotic”—which means it’s a disease that affects animals that can be transmitted to humans.2 The list of zoonotic infections than can be transmitted from dogs and cats is extensive, with most exposures occurring from bites—especially in children.
Keep It Clean!
Because organ transplant recipients are more likely than most people to get diseases from animals, precautions must be taken with pets.
Experts from the AST Infectious Diseases Community of Practice recommends the following routines to reduce the risk of developing an illness from your pet.3 (See article for exhaustive list).
- If possible, avoid direct contact with animal feces (stool). When picking up feces, use gloves and surgical face masks.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly with running water and soap after handling animals and their feces.
- Supervise the hand washing of children after handling animals.
- Transplant patients should not clean bird cages and feeders, fish tanks, and cat litter boxes.This is particularly important early after transplant.
- Have another person clean out your cat’s litter box on a regular (daily) basis.
- Do not place cat litter boxes in kitchens, dining rooms, or other areas where food is prepared and eaten.
- Keep your cat indoors.
- Pets should be fed only high-quality commercial pet foods.
- Pets should be prevented from drinking toilet bowl water and from having access to garbage.
- Do not handle or pet stray animals to avoid bites and scratches.
- Additionally, all persons should avoid direct contact with wild animals. Do not adopt wild animals as pets or bring them into your home.
- The following animals are considered high-risk:
- Reptiles including lizards, snakes, and turtles
- Baby chicks and ducklings
- Exotic pets including monkeys and large birds.
Additionally, it is recommended that when getting a new pet, avoid animals that are ill, stray, or young (cats and dogs less than 6 months old). These animals are more likely to carry diseases that can make you ill.
Talk to Your Transplant Doctor and Veterinarian
It is recommended that recently transplanted recipients refrain from adopting a new pet early in their post-transplant period due to the need to be on higher doses of immunosuppressive medications. Before adopting or taking in a pet, be sure to discuss your circumstances with your transplant team.
If you have a pet, it’s important to keep him or her healthy. Be sure to routinely take them to the veterinarian to keep current with their vaccinations and wellness visits. Arrange for pet care in advance should you need to be readmitted to the hospital after transplant for treatment.
Always seek the advice of your transplant team with any questions you may have regarding your specific medical condition. The information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice from your healthcare provider.