Tips & Tricks

Pets and lymphedema

Animals make wonderful companions, however there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your pets and lymphedema.

Pets are wonderful companions, especially when you’re dealing with a chronic condition. Cuddly and affectionate, they are instant mood lifters when things seem to get tough. Even just petting your animal can lower your blood pressure! Except for a little light maintenance, there isn’t much of a downside to having a pet. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind when it comes to your pets and lymphedema.

Tooth and Nail

As anyone with a cat or bird knows, bites and scratches are practically unavoidable. My kitten is feisty and a bit aggressive when she plays, so I’m constantly covered in her special little calling cards.

When you get scratched or bitten by your pet, it’s important to take action right away, because an infection could occur regardless of whether or not it’s on your affected limb. Clean the break in the skin, and see a doctor if it’s a serious bite. Make sure you’re up to date on your immunizations, as well, to reduce the risk of infection!

Bites and scratches happen – it’s part of having a pet! – but they are avoidable. Try to discourage your pet from rough play by introducing a toy as soon as they begin using their teeth or claws during playtime. Eventually they’ll get the idea that your hands and feet are not toys!

Bottle feeding a baby Piper!
Bottle feeding my kitten

Litter boxes

I’m sure you’ve heard the warnings against pregnant women cleaning litter boxes. This is for good reason, because they are at risk for contracting toxoplasmosis, a condition which could cause birth defects.

Toxoplasmosis doesn’t cause any symptoms in healthy people, but for those with a compromised immune system, it can cause a lot of problems. Lymphies, that means us! If you have lymphedema in your hand or arm, it’s best to wear gloves when cleaning the litter box, or to have someone else do the task altogether.

For more information on toxoplasmosis, click here.


Fish are great. They’re so peaceful to watch, swimming around in their little bowls. But – surprise! – they are susceptible to a bacteria that can infect fish owners, especially those with lymphedema.

This bacteria is Mycobacterium marinum, also known as “fish tank granuloma.” It creates bump-like lesions or open sores on your extremities. It forms in a line along the lymphatic vessel, and if it’s left untreated, it can invade the deeper tissues of the affected limb. Not good, guys!

You can contract this lovely infection from handling fish, cleaning the tank or bowl, or swimming in water that is not properly chlorinated. This is a bigger risk for those with lymphedema in their hand or arm, so to avoid contracting the bacteria, it’s important to wear waterproof gloves when cleaning your aquarium. Having someone else do the cleaning and therefore avoiding any contact with the water is even better.

So, to review:

  • Avoid bites and scratches
  • Treat any breaks in the skin as soon as they occur
  • If you have lymphedema in the arm or hand, wear protective gloves when cleaning litter boxes or fish tanks

Pets rule, but as with anything there are some hidden risks. Following these tips can help to ensure a happy and healthy relationship with your pet, as well as good health for you!

My kitten Piper!

Have you ever had any experiences with pets and lymphedema? Have you ever gotten an infection from a cat scratch or bite? Please share in the comments section below!

11 comments on “Pets and lymphedema

  1. omg so cute!!

  2. Thank you for a great post.

  3. Nicely put from a fantastic blogger

  4. Hi Alexa…What’s your kitty’s name? She’s adorable!! I have two–had three but Willow, the oldest, died at age 20 about a year and a half ago. Charlotte is 12 and Marius, the monster, is three. Yes, I’ve had scratches and nips from them, but no problems have ensued, maybe because I’ve taken prompt action, but also because I don’t have lymphedema in my upper extremities. When they’ve gone after my legs I’ve made it clear that that is a major no-no. Charlotte is now a senior kitty and spends a lot of time sleeping and avoiding Marius; he gets a cold-water spritz if he goes after my legs. I adore them, of course; if I had time to take proper care of a dog, I’d love to have one again–we had one years ago–but a dog needs to be walked at least twice a day, and I have to go to work and take care of my dumb legs, so until I retire, I won’t consider a doggie.

    Bad time now…my dad died on the 8th and between that and going to DC for the funeral and then coming back here and going to work I have been absolutely exhausted. I’m going to treat myself to an early dinner at a nice little Vietnamese place down the road from me, where they all know me and are always super nice.

    • My kitten is named Piper – “Hyper Piper” or “Piper the Viper” depending on her mood. She’s great company! She doesn’t scratch anymore because she’s declawed now, although she’s very much a biter. She doesn’t go for my legs, though, which is good. I definitely need to get a water bottle to bring Piper into line. She has a penchant for walking on the table or kitchen counter, and no matter how many times I reprimand her, she always gets back up there. So insolent!

      Your cats sound so funny! I love older cats. When I was living in Baltimore, I volunteered at the SPCA as a cat cuddler and spent most of my time with the adult cats. They’re so sweet, and have such distinct personalities. They’re like furry little people. I have to agree with you about dogs – they are SO much work, and require a lot of activity that frankly I don’t have the time or energy for, let alone the legs!

      I’m sorry to hear about your father, Barbara. Are you doing alright? I’m glad you went out to dinner – it sounds like a great way to get your mind off of things. I hope you’re doing okay! Let me know if you need anything.

  5. Kelley Armstrong

    Hi, I have had LE for my whole young adult life! I am also legally blind with a visual IQ of 21 60 and I have three dogs and they are my greatest companions! Mollie is a six year old jack rustle terrier and chihuahua mix! I got her as a baby and she was one month old! Cisco is a Pomeranian weenydog mix! He was about six weeks old when we got him and he is three years old! Coco is a chow and she was five weeks old when we got her and now she is two! My LE effects my legs and because I know injury to skin is major where LE is concerned! Here are my precautions I take! I always try to keep my legs covered with a blanket! The two small dogs are always in my lap! Their nails are cut short! To me a dog is one of the best companions a human can have!

    • Pets are such great companions! Yours sound so sweet, and I’m glad to hear you take precautions when it comes to your lymphedema. That way, you can stay healthy while fully enjoying the company of your furry friends :)

  6. Lynn Watts

    My boy Milo has just badly scratched my lymph arm .have been to pharmacy and now have them covered over after spraying with antiseptic .I’m also taking antibiotics .love him to bits but he’s a terror when he’s roused !

  7. Jennifer Becker

    My mom is not a pet person, but she has been living with my sister who has a dog, and my grandparents who have a cat. She’s had a lot of infections since moving, and being displaced (mom and dad are building a house), and she thinks it could be partially due to exposure to these animals. She does not clean the litter box, and she has minimal interaction with either the dog or the cat. What is the likelihood that animals are exacerbating her lymphedema symptoms and infections?

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