How to Care for Your Pet When You Have Cancer
Are you worried about taking care of your pet and staying safe as you cope with cancer? First, take a deep breath. Support is available. Here's what you need to know.
Animals are such agreeable friends ― they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.
Whether they have fur, feathers, scales, or fins, pets are a source of joy, friendship, and unconditional love for people across the world. And pets can improve our wellness too. Studies show that pet companionship has many mental and physical health benefits, from reducing anxiety to lowering blood pressure.1
So, if you are coping with cancer, it’s natural to think of your pet as an important part of your support system and even your care team. Chances are your pet has helped you through challenging times before. But if you are newly diagnosed, you also may have many worries and questions. Will you have the time, energy, and resources to take care of your pet while getting cancer treatment?
You also may wonder:
- Is it safe to keep my pet at home while going through treatment?
- Can I have physical contact with my pet?
- Are there pet care tasks I can do safely, or do I need help from others?
- What are my options if I’m having trouble keeping up with pet care needs?
- Are there programs that provide pet care assistance for cancer patients?
- What questions should I ask my healthcare team about pet care?
Many pet owners who are coping with cancer share your worries. In 2018, CancerCare surveyed its clients about their pet care concerns.2 Most respondents with pets worried about paying for pet food and vet care costs, shopping for pet food, and getting to the vet. More than half of pet owners also cited challenges doing pet-related tasks because of an inability to walk, lift, or bend down. Another concern among respondents was risk of infection due to a weakened immune system during treatment.2
Here's What You Can Do
For questions about pet care and pet ownership during your treatment, your best resource is your healthcare team. Let them know about any pets you have at home. They can give you vital guidance on staying safe around your pet. Certain treatments like stem cell transplant can also have more restrictions and may require taking extra precautions during recovery. After a stem cell transplant, it can take up to a year for a patient’s immune system to recover.3
Your healthcare team will also want to know what types of pets you have. Certain animals can pose a greater health risk for cancer patients.4,5 These include reptiles, amphibians, parrots and other certain birds, and rodents including hamsters. Even as pets, these animals can potentially pass along harmful bacteria. This can be very serious for people who are immunocompromised (have weakened immune systems) due to cancer treatment.4,5
Simple Ways to Stay Safe With Pets
There are some basic tips that can help you stay safe around your pet while you are coping with cancer.
- Wash your hands regularly
- Don't let your pet lick your face
- Maintain your pet’s wellness exams, immunizations, parasite screenings & prevention care
- Find someone who can help you with pet care tasks
Pet care tasks include things like cleaning up pet waste and brushing your pet’s teeth. Picking up pet toys and feeding your pet are also best left for someone else to do. Pet food, water dishes, and toys can harbor bacteria. If you must do any pet care tasks, consider wearing gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
You can also take steps to minimize your pet’s risk of getting infections from other animals. Ask your vet office for recommendations to do this. If you have a pet that likes to be outdoors, make sure they don't wander away from your property.3
Did You Know?
Nearly all U.S. pet owners (97%) surveyed by the Pew Research Center in April 2023 said their pets are part of their family. Read more about the survey results.
Pet Care Resources for Cancer Patients
When it comes to caring for your beloved pet, safety is probably not your only concern. You might be worried about managing both pet care and self-care as you undergo treatment.
A cancer diagnosis can consume your time, energy, and resources. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with pet care so that you can navigate medical appointments, take needed time for rest, and cope with potential side effects. Ask trusted friends or family members if they can help you with pet care tasks. Create a personal network site on MyLifeLine, our free online support community for people impacted by cancer. There, you can easily join your friends and family together and organize volunteers to help you.
If you don’t have a personal network near you, or need more assistance, there are programs aimed at helping people with practical and financial pet care needs. Here are some resources you may want to explore:
CancerCare Pet Assistance & Wellness (PAW) Program – The PAW Program provides free educational fact sheets, guides, and videos for people with cancer who are caring for pets. The program also provides limited financial assistance to qualified individuals who are in active cancer treatment and share their home with a cat or a dog.
Companions 4 Life Fund – This program, from the Florida-based nonprofit Cancer Alliance of Help & Hope, can help cancer patients with pet food, supplies, and vet expenses.
Pet Help Finder – Try this online resource to search for programs and services that can help with vet care, pet supplies, pet food assistance, boarding services, transportation support, and more.
Your veterinarian and local animal shelters can also be great sources of information. Check with them to see if they know of programs in your area that can help you manage pet care.
Looking for More Support?
For personalized assistance, contact our Cancer Support Helpline to speak with one of our experienced community navigators or resource specialists. They are here to provide free navigation for cancer patients and their loved ones by phone at 888-793-9355 and online via our live chat service.
Whether you have pet care needs or other concerns related to your cancer diagnosis, our Helpline team can connect you with resources and information. Here are a few programs our navigators have found for callers in need of pet care support:
- Free dog-walking service for cancer patients
- Free pet boarding for people undergoing cancer treatment
- Meal delivery programs with pet food programs
- Pet pantries for pet food and supplies like litter
- Pet assistance programs for older adults
A cancer diagnosis can be stressful. Your pet can be a tremendous source of comfort during this difficult time. With the right resources and support, you can both get the care you need to stay as safe and healthy as possible.
Pets are humanizing. They remind us we have an obligation and responsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to Stay Healthy Around Pets and Other Animals.
2. Oshiro, Jackie. Patients With Pets. Cancer Today.
3. Returning Home After Your Autologous Stem Cell Transplant. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
4. Jones, Valerie. 8 Do’s and Don’ts for Pet Owners During Cancer Treatment. MD Anderson Cancer Center.
5. Vachani, Carolyn, MSN, RN. Coping With Pet Care During Treatment. OncoLink.