Special considerations for immunocompromised people

Many zoonotic diseases are much more severe or even deadly in immunocompromised people. People at increased risk include people with AIDS, people on chemotherapy or being treated for immune-mediated disease, people with organ or bone marrow transplants, the elderly, the very young and pregnant women. General guidelines exist describing ways immunocompromised people can safely keep pets. These are readily available from several sources; for example, the Center for Food Security and Public Health has produced fast facts on Zoonoses and Immunocompromised Persons. Guidelines for people infected with HIV are also available from the U.S. Government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Specific considerations for animal centres include the following:

  1. 1It may not be apparent that a potential adopter is immunocompromised, and people may be reluctant to discuss this private issue. Therefore, material regarding immunocompromised people and pets should be readily available and prominently placed to allow for anonymous contemplation.
  2. 2The safest choice of dog or cat for an immunocompromised adopter is an adult animal (over one year old) that has current vaccinations and was surrendered from a private home with a history of being a well-cared for pet and with no history of roaming loose. The very safest choice would be to facilitate adoption of such an animal directly from its former home, rather than having it pass through the Centre and potentially become infected with a zoonotic condition.
  3. 3Immunocompromised adopters should avoid any animal showing signs of disease or ill health. Animals selected should be free of fleas and ticks and treated for internal parasites prior to going home.
  4. 4As with any new adoption, the animal should be assessed by a veterinarian soon after adoption and appropriate deworming, vaccination and other treatment instituted or continued.
  5. 5Reptiles are not recommended as pets for immunocompromised people, because of the high risk of salmonella infection.