FROM African Grey Parrot Lovers & Oliver’s Eclectus Page
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IF YOU ARE GETTING CHEMO & PETS by Rebecca, Oncologist RN
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*This information is for educational purpose and NOT intended to replace the advice of your personal oncologist. Always follow the advice of your oncologist.
***This is not an exhaustive list, but basic info to help you during a difficult time in your life.***
The following is important information for anyone receiving chemotherapy for cancer and tips for caring for parrots and other pets during treatments. The chemo is excreted in your urine and other body fluids for 48 hours to several days after you have your chemo, so be sure your pets don’t drink from the toilet to prevent exposure to toxins of the chemo and clean up any spills. Protect your pets and family members from any body fluids, including your saliva for 7 days after chemo. Hand washing is very important not only for you but to protect your birds and other pets.
Depending on the chemo you are given, approximately 5-14 days after your chemo you reach what is called your “nadir”, which is the lowest point that an individual’s blood cell count will reach as a side effect of the chemotherapy. I will discuss 3 blood counts that are affected by chemo; the White blood count (WBC) which is your first line of defense against infection, red blood count (RBC) which carry oxygen throughout your body,and platelets, which help the blood to clot, leaving the patient open for infection, anemia which causes fatigue, and bleeding.The nadir for each blood cell type occurs at different times.The white blood count (WBC) is usually 7-14 days following the last day of chemo, and it depends on your treatment regime. Your oncologist will probably check your blood counts one week after your chemo. WBC fight bacteria, viruses and other foreign invaders that can cause infection, so you should avoid situations which could lead to increased risk of infection.
A temperature 100.4-5 or higher is the FIRST sign of infection and requires a call to the doctor or trip to ER. During the 5-14 days (nadir) it is best to take your temperature twice a day. The nadir usually resolves and counts slowly return to normal in about 3-4 weeks, just in time for your next treatment, so, the entire time you receive treatment, you must be very careful. If you look up the definition of nadir in the dictionary it is “the lowest point; of greatest adversity or despair.” Sounds scary, huh? It’s not just a simple warning, but a very serious one. If your WBC is low, and some get extremely low, you are susceptible to any infections, which includes bacteria, viruses, and any foreign invaders, and if your platelets are low, you can experience serious bleeding.
The best way to prevent bleeding during chemo, as far as our pets are concerned, is to avoid any scratches or cuts by keeping their nails trimmed. Also, avoid any bites. If your parrot acts agitated do not push your luck. A bite could lead to serious bleeding and infection.
If you have cats, you know that a cat bite is dangerous even if you aren’t getting chemo, but during this time the bite or scratch could land you in the hospital. If your parrot’s nails are sharp, trim them and/or put a towel or cloth over your hand before picking him up. Even minor scratches can lead to severe bleeding if you don’t have platelets to clot your blood.
After holding your parrot or playing with other pets, wash your hands well to prevent transmission of bacteria etc., it would be best to wear a mask and gloves when handling your exotic bird and other pets during the Nadir, but hand washing is also very important. Even if you wear gloves, you must be very vigilant during this time, it is extremely important to avoid infections and bleeding at all costs. Infections usually occur in the lungs, mouth, throat, sinuses and skin. If you get a scratch or cut watch carefully for redness or swelling and temperature. Sometimes your temp will go up before you see any redness.
Do not handle animal waste such as cat litter, bird cages/waste, and fish tanks, but if you MUST clean them, wear a good mask and rubber gloves. The normal masks may not protect you completely. Wash hands well afterward. Warm soapy water is fine, but be sure you wash every part of your hands, front, back, wrists etc and nails..the best way to know if you have washed long enough is to sing ‘happy birthday to you’, twice. It’s not enough to just run your hands under the water.
If you have someone who can clean your bird’s cage, and cat litter box, that would be best. Even folding up a newspaper with bird waste on it or the dust from litter boxes while scooping can be inhaled. Spray down the bird papers with water and with several drops of GSE (grapefruit seed extract) in the bottle before removing them to keep the dust from going airborne. GSE in the bottle will help keep mold and bacteria from growing. Dust free cat litter is available.
Cats can get toxoplasmosis from eating mice, so, watch your cats, especially if they go outdoors. If your pet gets sick with vomiting, diarrhea etc, do not clean it up yourself, have someone on-call who can help you. Take them to the vet to be sure you know what is causing the sickness. DO NOT be afraid to ask for help. These are not things to scare you but to let you that your health and wellness during chemo is extremely important. You don’t have to get rid of your pets, but just be very careful. Our pets bring us comfort and can be beneficial to our well-being and healing.
ALWAYS ask your oncologist about caring for pets during chemo as your situation could be different. Be sure they know you have an exotic bird and last but not least, be sure you have emergency plans in place in case you have to be hospitalized during your treatment. Do you have someone who can care for your pets? It’s best to make these plans before you start your treatments.