I Have CKD. Is it Safe to Keep My Pets?

By Lori Hartwell

Anyone who knows me or follows me on social media will tell you I love animals. I often post an orphaned animal in need of a second chance at life or a cherished pet that needs a new home due to the passing of a family member. My husband, Dean, and I also foster animals from local rescue organizations to help them transition from a shelter to a new home. Our family comprises of four dogs and one cat, but the star of our menagerie is our African grey parrot, Johnny. With a vocabulary nearing 300 words, many of them rather cheeky, Johnny keeps us all in stitches.

If you are a pet owner, you know the many benefits of the companionship they provide. The unconditional love that my pets shower on me has brought immeasurable joy to my life. I can’t imagine life without them.

My animals always appear to be happy. It takes so little to please them! A bone, a toss of a toy, or a cuddle creates excitement that is spirit-lifting.

That is why I am disheartened whenever I hear about someone with kidney disease who is about to undergo home dialysis or a kidney transplant being told by their doctor to give up their pet. Having lived with animals all my life, I would go over the edge if someone gave me that advice. My animals are part of my everyday life; they are part of my family. They help me in immeasurable ways.

Scientists are now agreeing with those of us who know the benefits of pet ownership. Pets help improve their owners’ mental health and reduce their anxiety. People tend to be happier in the presence of animals. Studies have also shown how pets can reduce their owners’ blood pressure and improve the outcome of those who have suffered a heart attack.

Therapy dogs that make the rounds in hospitals demonstrate how they benefit our well-being. During one of my long hospital stays, my anxiety dropped immensely when a beautiful standard poodle came by to say hello to me. I forgot about my situation as I gazed into the dog’s eyes and ran my hand over his beautiful curly fur.

Yes, having a pet is a responsibility, and if you have chronic kidney disease you must take extra precautions to stay safe and avoid infection. Consider the following quick tips, but also check out the additional resources I listed at the end of this article.

• Wash your hands after petting, touching, or feeding pets, and after cleaning up messes. Before taking medicines and handling food, dishes, or other things in the kitchen, always wash your hands.

• Wear gloves and a mask when cleaning a cat litter box or bird cage, or picking up dog droppings. Or better yet, have someone else do it!

• Keep the claws on your dogs and cats trimmed so that you’re less likely get scratched. If you do get scratched, clean the scratch well and cover it until it heals. I carry a band aid and a packet of Neosporin in my purse, and I keep them on hand at home.

• Keep your pets clean and up to date with vaccines and flea-and-tick repellent and be sure to give them regular check-ups.

My beloved black poodle, Pepi, was better than a therapist when I  started dialysis as a teenager. For eighteen years he kept me active by sharing walks with me a couple of times a day and giving me some good cuddles as I underwent peritoneal dialysis (PD). Although I made sure he was not in the room when I did the PD connection, he stayed by my side at night when I was on the machine. And my beloved black poodle, Miles, laid on my lap while I was doing home hemodialysis. I never got an infection from my furry best friends.

And yes, I must admit, my furry best friends pile onto our bed each night, but I keep my home and environment clean and I groom and bathe my animals regularly. However, in 2011, when I had my transplant, I took extra precautions because I knew my immune system was at its weakest. No three-dog nights for me during that time.   

Maybe you’re ready to bring a pet into your family. If owning or adopting an animal seems too big of a responsibility, why not try fostering one? Many rescue organizations and humane societies have companion-animal and foster programs that you may enjoy.

One thing I know is how the pets I have had throughout my life helped me tremendously while living with a serious illness. I love the quote by George Eliot, “Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.” I have never been at a loss for a best friend.

Find more information on the RSN website at RSNhope.org:
Don’t Bug Me! Understanding Infectious Disease
Pets & Kidney Transplant Safety
Collection of information about pets and infection safety including the CDC Guidelines and Public Health Reports.


Lori hartwell - Renal Support Network - PresidentLori Hartwell is the Founder & President of Renal Support Network (RSN) and the host of KidneyTalk™, a radio podcast show. Lori was diagnosed with kidney disease at the age of two. In 1993 she founded RSN to instill “health, happiness and hope” into the lives of those affected by chronic kidney disease. Lori is also the author of the inspirational book Chronically Happy: Joyful Living in Spite of Chronic Illness and is a four-time kidney transplant recipient.

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