Care of your pets when you have cancer
This information is for people with cancer who may be worried about the care of their pet if they have to go into hospital for treatment, or if they are no longer able to look after their pet.
When support may be needed
Back to top
Many people with cancer live alone but have the companionship of a pet. Looking after a pet can become a problem if you have to go into hospital for treatment, or into a nursing or residential home if you’re less able to cope because of the cancer or its treatment. This can be a very distressing time, and many pet owners worry about who will look after their pet when they can't, or who will care for their pet if they die.
There are arrangements you can make for your pets while you’re in hospital or if you become unable to look after them.
It's always a good idea to check with neighbours, relatives and friends who live close by to see if they can help you out, as your pet is more likely to know and trust them. They may be able to pop in to feed your pet and provide extra care, such as walking your dog.
Relatives and friends who live further away may also be able to help. It might be possible for them to care for your pet in their home, although this will take more planning and isn't always suitable.
Your local vet may be able to help, as they might know of or provide a volunteer support scheme. This is where volunteers visit your home to care for your pet or temporarily look after them in their own home while you’re in hospital. Your vet might also know of animal shelters in your area that may be able to help.
Social workers may be able to give you advice about pet care while you're in hospital. As part of the National Assistance Act (1948), your local social services department has a duty to provide care for your pets if you’re admitted to hospital and there is no one else to take care of them. You may be charged for this service. Most cancer centres will have a social worker you can speak to about this. If not, your GP should be able to refer you to one.
Short-term animal fostering
Back to top
You may have to go into hospital for treatment, or into a nursing or residential home for a short time. Pets aren't allowed in some of these places. If there's no one else to look after your pets, you may need to have them fostered. Some nursing homes will allow you to bring your pet, so it’s always worth asking.
Fostering involves someone else temporarily taking care of your pet, usually in their own home or in a care centre. Many organisations will try to match the fosterer's home circumstances with your own so that your pet finds it easier to adjust to the change.
Some fostering organisations will keep you up to date about how your pet is while you’re in hospital and may send you photographs.
Most fostering services are provided by small charities that are run by teams of volunteers. They receive very little or no funding, other than from charitable donations. Despite this, many fostering services are provided free of charge to pet owners. You may be asked to pay for or supply your pet's food, and to be prepared to pay for any vet's bills.
There are several national organisations and charities that may be able to help you, depending on your circumstances and where in the UK you live. Your vet may be able to tell you about local fostering services in your area. You may find that some fostering services are listed in your local newspaper or have websites that you can find by using an internet search engine. The organisations listed on the who can help page may also be able to help.
Other short-term options
Back to top
If you’re able to pay for pet care while you’re in hospital, you may want to consider using a boarding kennels or cattery. These can be expensive and may only be suitable for short periods of time. Contact details of local boarding services should be in your phone book, or your vet may be able to suggest some. You can also contact the Animal Boarding Advisory Bureau on 01606 891 303. It's a good idea to try to get a recommendation and visit a boarding service first if you can.
Another option is to have someone come to your house each day to feed and spend time with your pet and, if necessary, walk them. Organisations such as Petpals, which cover the whole of the UK, can arrange for someone to care for your pet. Your vet can tell you about any local organisations that can provide someone to look after your pet.
A third option is to have a 'sitter' stay in your house. Many house-sitting services will also take care of pets. Contact details for local sitting services should be in your phone book. Again, it's a good idea to discuss this with your vet, who may be able to recommend a local service. You can obtain a register of petsitters throughout the UK from the National Association of Registered Petsitters (NARP).
Finding another home for your pet
In some circumstances, it may be necessary for you to find another permanent home for your pet. This can be a very difficult decision to make, but it can help to know that they are going to a good home.
A number of organisations, including The Cinnamon Trust and the National Animal Welfare Trust, specialise in finding new homes for pets. Other local organisations and charities around the country, and national organisations such as the RSPCA, The Dogs Trust and Cats Protection, should also be able to help. Your vet can also give you advice.
Planning for an emergency
Back to top
Sometimes you may have to go into hospital at very short notice, and it might not be possible to make arrangements for your pets to be looked after. You can, however, plan for an emergency in case one should ever happen.
It’s a good idea to think about who could look after your pets for you at short notice, such as a neighbour or a nearby relative or friend. You may want to write their details on a card that you carry with you at all times in your wallet or purse, for example.
Alternatively, you can leave contact details of relatives or friends with your solicitor and carry an emergency card that has the solicitor's details on it.
It can also be a good idea to make arrangements for your pets in the event of your death. You can leave specific details about your pets in your will.
Some charities run re-homing services in the event of a pet owner’s death. They will collect the pet and make sure it goes to a new, loving home. The RSPCA run a free re-homing service called Home for Life. Dogs Trust have a service called the Canine Care Card, which includes a wallet-sized card to carry with you. Cats Protection can also help. Pet owners may need to leave instructions about the schemes in their will.
Keeping your pet calm and stress-free
Back to top
Some pets can become stressed if they’re being looked after by people they don't know very well, or if they have to move home. To keep your pets stress-free, it can help to make sure they have familiar objects with them, such as their favourite toys and bedding. It’s also useful if they have things that smell of their owner, such as a jumper.
Some pets are calmed by artificial pheromones that will mimic the animal's natural pheromones and create a sense of well-being. Pheromones are chemical signals used to communicate. For cats there is a product called Feliway®, which is available as a room diffuser or spray. For dogs there is a product called DAP®, which is available as a room diffuser, spray and collar. Your vet or local pet shop can give you more information.
A national charity providing information and animal welfare. Has 12 animal re-homing centres across the UK.
The UK's oldest and largest cat charity. It offers a re-homing service through its nationwide network of adoption centres and voluntary branches. The charity also operates a free 'emergency care card' scheme – call the helpline for more information.
The cinnamon trust is a national network of more than 15,000 volunteers that provides practical help when any aspect of day-to-day care poses a problem. This varies from arranging a dog walker if the owner has become housebound, to short-term foster care during an owner's admission to hospital.
The largest UK dog welfare charity. Offers advice about all aspects of dog care, including re-homing. Has a number of centres around the UK.
Has re-homing centres in Berkshire, Cornwall, Essex, Somerset, London and the Home Counties. Provides a free 'Pet Care Card' that gives instructions about your wishes for the care and re-homing of your pet.
A register of more than 8,000 petsitters throughout the UK. There is a charge for this service.
Provides emergency foster care for a variety of pets. Mostly fosters dogs, cats and caged birds, but it’s able to care for more exotic pets as well. Provides foster care if the pet owner has to go into hospital for treatment or respite. Mostly this service is provided for elderly pet owners. The service is free, but the owner is expected to pay for food and any veterinary bills. Services are available in Scotland only.
Provides petsitting, boarding, dog walking, exercise and companionship through over 50 franchises around the UK. Can also make visits to the vet if needed. All staff are insured, trained and have been police-checked for security. They are also members of the National Association of Registered Petsitters.
Has a network of animal centres and branches throughout England and Wales, and can give advice about pet re-homing. Pet fostering isn't usually possible, but volunteer petsitters are sometimes available to petsit or temporarily look after pets in their own homes.
Has a network of Animal Welfare Centres throughout Scotland. Gives advice on animal care and signposts to fostering and re-homing services in Scotland.
Thanks to: Carla Boreham, World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA); Imogen Richens, Veterinary Surgeon; Gregory Brown, Cats Protection; and the people affected by cancer who reviewed this edition.
This section has been compiled using information from a number of reliable sources, including:
Thanks to people like you
All of our information is reviewed by health professionals and people affected by cancer.
You can help too when you join our Cancer Voices network.