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Pets and Lymphedema

My pet dog.


Having a pet, or pets, can be a great joy; however, when you have lymphedema there are some risks you should be aware of and precautions that you should take.

  • On the positive side, the companionship of a pet is a delight. Also walking your dog, or playing with your cat, are great sources of exercise and companionship for both of you.
  • On the  negative side,  some pets may increase the risk of accidental injuries that may break the skin of a lymphedema affected limb.


When you have lymphedema, any break in the skin of the affected area puts you at risk of developing a serious infection.

  • When selecting a pet keep this risk in mind and choose one that is least likely to put you at risk.
  • A pet that needs you to be walked or exercised regularly has benefits for both of you.
  • If you are scratched or bitten, it is important that you take the appropriate first aid steps immediately.
  • A bite is a puncture wound that prompt immediate medical care -- even for those who do not have lymphedema.
  • If your immunizations, such as for tetanus, are not up-to-date treatment, a booster shot may be required. 


A  deer tick can

transmit Lyme disease.

Unless you have protected your pets against ticks, they can transmit ticks that could bite you and cause Lyme disease. This is an inflammatory disease that is spread via a deer tick in neighborhoods where herds of wild deer wander freely. You and/or ticks can be bitten by one of these ticks and cause a serious disease that has an easily recognized symptom. This is at the site of the bite a characteristic "bulls eye" sore develops that has a white center with red streaks. This is a serious condition and anyone who had been bitten by a deer tick should see their physician promptly.


Cleaning the litter box is no one’s favorite task. Pregnant women are warned to have someone else clean the kitty litter box for the duration of the pregnancy because of the risk on contracting toxoplasmosis because of the risk of causes birth defects in the developing child.

In healthy individuals toxoplasmosis does not cause symptoms; however in an individual with a compromised immune system, toxoplasmosis can cause serious health problems.[1] If you have lymphedema, your immune system is compromised. If it is your hand and arm that are affected by lymphedema, it is wise to have someone else take over this clean-up duty. If this cannot be avoided, while performing this task, always wear waterproof protective gloves that are discarded after use.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now includes Mycobacterium marinum on its list of “Emerging Infectious Diseases.” Also known as fish tank granuloma, this slow growing bacteria can infect fish and people. Although relatively rare, it is increasingly common and those with lymphedema need to beware of the dangers of an infection with this bacteria.[2]

Mycobacterium marinum infections produce nodular (bump-like) lesions or ulcerating (open) skin sores on the extremities. As the disease progresses, multiple sores may form in a line along the lymphatic vessel that drains the site. When there is a delay in diagnosing this condition, this pathogen continues to invade into the deeper tissues of the affected limb.

When there is a break in the skin and anyone with other serious medical conditions, including lymphedema, are at greatest risk because a Mycobacterium marinum infection can be acquired by cleaning aquariums, handling fish, or swimming in water that is not properly chlorinated.


If your hand and arm are affected by lymphedema, have somone else take over responsibility for cleaning the fish tank.

  • If you must clean the fish tank, always wear waterproof gloves.
  • When cleaning fish for eating, always wear heavy gloves to protect your hands from injury. 
  • If you have an open sore or break in the skin, it is best to avoid fresh or salt water activities in water where these bacteria are known to exist.


Just like people, cats and dogs are at risk of developing either primary or secondary lymphedema.

  • More dogs than cats develop primary lymphedema.
  • The breeds of dogs most likely to develop this condition are poodles, Labrador Retrievers, Old English sheepdogs, and English bulldogs.
  • Any cat or dog that has had an injury, surgery, or cancer treatment is at risk of developing secondary lymphema.
  • Your veteraniarian should know how to help your pet live well with lympheema.

© LymphNotes.com 2014. This information does not replace the advice of a qualified health care professional.

Got a question or comment? Post in the 'Living With Lymphedema' forum.
Category: Living With Lymphedema Updated: 2014-10-31


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