I would love to get a pet. However, people around me said that an animal could be detrimental to my health. Are there any animals that pose risks to the health of people with Cystic Fibrosis?
First, be aware that it is important to choose a pet well. Some animals do not really have an impact on health if the necessary precautions are taken. However, other types of animals are simply not recommended. People with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) may be concerned about two types of risk: the risk of infection, and allergic risk. Many studies have proven the therapeutic properties of living with a pet for people with a disease (zootherapy). It is therefore important to consider the psychosocial benefits of having a pet and the potential risks to health.
Exposure to environmental allergens (like animal dander) leads to the worsening of lung functionality in other obstructive lung diseases such as asthma. The effect of animal exposure on lung functionality in people with CF remains uncertain. Therefore, reducing environmental risks remains essential to maximize lung health in CF.
A multicentre study of 703 patients with CF in the United States has shown that owning a cat is associated with a greater prevalence of nasal polyps, and owning a dog or cat is associated with greater prevalence of wheezing, which could lead to reduced lung functionality, especially between the ages of 6-8 years old. In this study, the authors have not demonstrated a significant correlation between owning a cat or dog and the prevalence of MRSA or Pseudomonas. Nevertheless we must set out the possibility of animals as a source of respiratory pathogens, and also as being a potential problem. A limited sample of CF patients and their companion animals (n = 20) identified them as carriers of the same bacteria / fungi.
However, it turns out that when the usual hygiene measures are met (ex.: frequent hand washing), owning a cat or dog has no major risk. By taking precautions, you do not run a higher risk of infections or allergies than a person without CF. The presence of an animal can be problematic if you are already allergic. Before adopting a pet, first make sure you do not suffer from such allergies! It is best to discuss with your healthcare team about the possibility of allergy tests before obtaining a pet.
On the other side, some animals, like birds or aquarium animals, are not recommended. These two types of animals can be problematic for people with CF because of their risk of transmitting bacteria. It is best to avoid contact with birds as they are often carriers of problematic germs such as Chlamydia, atypical mycobacteria, and aspergillus. Animals living in aquariums increase the risk of transmission of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and atypical mycobacteria by their humid environments.
So a new pet for you or your child? No problem, but you have to choose wisely, and discuss it beforehand with your CF team, who know your health condition.
Joanie Bernier Nurse, B.SC
Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at the McGill University Health Centre