Can pets transmit diseases

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It is very unlikely that your child will be harmed from living with a household pet, but several common sense precautions are needed to protect a child with a low ANC from disease, worms, or infection:

• Make sure that the animal is vaccinated against all possible diseases.

• Have pets checked for worms as soon as possible after your child is diagnosed, and then every year thereafter (more often for puppies).

• Do not let pets eat off plates or lick your child's face.

• Keep children away from the cat litter box and any animal feces outdoors.

• Have children wash hands after playing with the pet.

• Make sure that your pet has no ticks or fleas.

• If you have a pet that bites or scratches, consider finding another home for it. On the other hand, if you have a gentle, well-loved pet, do not give it up.

I think parents should know that you should not automatically get rid of your dog because your child has a low ANC. We went through a small crisis trying to decide whether to give away our large but beloved mongrel. The doctors wouldn't really give us a straight answer, but a parent in the support group said, "DO NOT get rid of your dog. Your son will need that dog's love and company in the years ahead." She was right. The dog was a tremendous comfort to our son.

If your child wants to buy a pet while undergoing treatment for cancer, here are some suggestions:

• Do not get a puppy. All puppies bite while teething, increasing the chance that your child may contract an infection.

• Do not get a parrot or parakeet as these species can transmit psittacosis.

• Do not get a turtle or other reptile (snake, iguana) as they sometimes carry salmonella.

• Avoid buying any animal that is likely to bite or scratch.

We bought Sarah an older puppy. We were very selective about the breeder and the breed. The dog has given my little girl back to me. After she got the dog, she started to want to walk again. She started to laugh. She had reason to think beyond herself and how terrible this illness is. She had someone who needed her. Someone who was delighted to see her and made her feel special in a way no human can. It literally transformed my child.

The dog's name is Libbe, and after having Libbe for about a week, Sarah started asking when Libbe was going to die. She knew Libbe was just a baby, a puppy, but she really was asking about herself. We were able to tell her that Libbe will be around when she is a teenager and she can take Libbe with her on those big-girl sleepovers. Heck, she could take Libbe in the car for a ride, if she wanted. She beamed. It put the death and dying issue to rest.

If you have any concerns or questions about pets you already own or are thinking of purchasing, ask your oncologist and vetrinarian for advice.

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