Q: I have a compromised immune system, and I want to adopt a cat. What do I need to know about protecting my health?
A: Many people are immunocompromised because of physiologic factors like pregnancy or extremes of age, metabolic conditions such as diabetes, infectious diseases like HIV, or treatment with immunosuppressant drugs for autoimmune diseases, cancer, or organ transplantation.
People with compromised immune systems can enjoy the health benefits of living with pets, provided they take precautions. Talk with your health care provider about the specifics of your own health while keeping the following general guidelines in mind.
Adopt a healthy adult cat because adults are less likely to carry disease than kittens. Be sure the cat is sterilized, current on vaccinations, and tests negative for the feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses, because both suppress the immune system, making the cat susceptible to diseases you can catch.
Keep your cat indoors to prevent hunting and exposure to other animals that may carry disease. Don’t let your kitty drink from the toilet or walk on kitchen counters or tables.
Have your veterinarian examine your cat at least once each year. Keep vaccinations current, because diseases like rabies are transmissible to humans.
Deworm your cat monthly, and ask your veterinarian to conduct fecal testing twice a year. Intestinal parasites like roundworms and hookworms can infect indoor cats and spread to humans.
Have someone else scoop the litter boxes. If that’s not possible, wear gloves and a mask, scoop daily, and wash your hands afterward.
Feed a high-quality, cooked, commercial diet. Never give your cat unpasteurized dairy products or raw meat, poultry, fish, or eggs because they increase your risk of developing food-borne infections.
Even indoor cats can host fleas, so apply a flea preventive throughout the year. This will not only keep your cat comfortable, but also protect you from cat scratch disease, which is transmitted through flea feces.
Keep your cat’s claws trimmed. If you are scratched or bitten, do not allow your cat to lick the wound. Instead, wash it with soap and water, and call your health care provider.
Wash your hands after handling your cat and before eating.
Your veterinarian is one of your family doctors, so confiding in your vet about your own health will help ensure that both you and your new cat remain healthy.
Q: Our dog Bogie sometimes nibbles acorns. I discourage him when we’re outside together, but when he’s alone in the fenced backyard, he may eat them without my knowledge. Are acorns toxic?
A: Acorns contain tannins that taste bitter and dry out a dog’s mouth, so most dogs don’t like them. Still, if Bogie does nibble a few acorns, their toxic effects—loss of appetite, mild vomiting, and diarrhea, which usually resolve on their own—are not especially dangerous.
However, if Bogie swallows a large quantity of whole acorns, they could block his intestines, causing lethargy and repeated vomiting. If this occurs, take him to his veterinarian immediately.
If the acorns are moldy from lying on the ground, the molds can cause tremors and other neurologic problems that require aggressive treatment.
Given the risks and Bogie’s interest, it may be best to rake or blow the acorns from your yard so he can’t eat them.