How does my HCV impact my pets?

When a person believes they may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, it can feel very scary and overwhelming. Most people do not know much about this virus, so their minds run wild with assumptions, misinformation, and worries. They may even begin to think about their partners, their kids, their jobs, and their lives. Often, there is little thought about their pets. However, pets can be impacted too by this experience, though there are no known cases of any person giving hepatitis C to their pet.

Between exposure and testing

During the time between exposure and testing for hepatitis C, some people may feel extremely anxious. They may be replaying the exposure event in their mind if they know when it occurred; they may be playing numerous life events over in their mind if they do not. Pets can feel this anxiety and may react to it. Some cats, dogs, and birds can tell when their pet parent is upset. This may cause them to become anxious too, since they do not know what their human is reacting to. This may lead to bad behavior, such as bathroom accidents, scratching, chewing, or howling. For the human, this can feel overwhelming, as if there is one more thing to deal with, in the midst of an already stressful situation. If this is happening in your home, it is important to try to take the time to understand why your pet is acting up and to work to correct their behavior without taking your own stress out on them. In other cases, cats and dogs may simply want to try to comfort their human, which may cause them to want to be closer than they typically are. This may mean that the pet insists on being on your lap, being in the room with you when you go to the bathroom or bathe, or even that they try to sleep pressed up against you. Again, it is important to reassure them. In addition, some research suggests that animals make great therapeutic interventions. You may find it helpful to your own feelings when you take the time to take the dog for a longer walk or spend more time petting the cat than you typically do.

After testing, during hepatitis C treatment

During the planning stages of treatment, you may want to discuss your pets’ needs with your doctor, especially if your pet needs a lot of time, attention, money, or exercise. You may wish to proactively create a contingency plan for your pets if you are unable to fully care for them during treatment. This may be as simple as asking someone in your household to take over these responsibilities or it may mean asking your neighbor for help. If you have a larger pet that may scare others (such as certain breeds of dogs), an unconventional pet that may require specific care (such as a snake or other reptile, an arachnid, macaw, or other non-traditional pet), you may wish to find out in advance whether there are pet services that will assist, a neighbor who is open to learning about caring for your unique pet, or another alternative option. While small cats and dogs are often easy to find assistance for via the internet, local pet stores, and phone apps, it can be helpful to plan for care for your uncommon pet’s needs too, as this may take more time and research.

During treatment, your side effects may vary. Some people experience few side effects and their experience is rooted primarily in feelings of anxiety through the process, until they receive word that the medical intervention was successful. In those cases, the experience with pets is not much different than during the pre-testing period. Others have much more severe side effects, which may include nausea and dizziness. If those symptoms occur for you, it is important to ask for help feeding and caring for your pets if you need it. The smells of pet foods and the bending down to feed or leash them may trigger your side effects. It is important to continue to feed and walk them on their regular schedule as often as possible, but it is also important that you do not upset your body unnecessarily. You may want to ask a loved one or someone in your household to take over those chores during treatment.

If you are experiencing more severe symptoms, such as depression or exhaustion, it is important to discuss this with your doctor. There may be medication alterations or additional medications that can be added to your regimen to help to combat those symptoms. However, your pets can be impacted by this in a significant way. If you feel unsafe, it is important to seek immediate help via your local emergency phone number (typically 9-1-1) or to go to an emergency room. If you find that you will need to be away from home in order to receive treatment, make sure to let a loved one or neighbor know that you will need them to care for your pets. If you are feeling low but able to remain safe and at home, you may still want to hire someone or ask someone to help with the animals. This way, they remain cared for and you remain able to focus on yourself.1-6

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