Pet care

It can be difficult to look after a pet when you have cancer. You may need to plan for their care.

About pet care

Pets can be a comfort when you have a cancer diagnosis. But you may be worried about caring for your pet, especially if you are having cancer treatment. You may be worried if you:

  • are struggling to look after your pet
  • have to go into hospital
  • have to move into a nursing or residential home
  • are no longer able to look after them.

This can be a very upsetting time. You may need to think about who could help with caring for your pet.

Who can help with your pet care

Friends and family

If you have friends, neighbours or family members who live close by, they may be able to help you. They may be able to visit your home to feed your pet and provide extra care, such as walking your dog.

Family or friends who live farther 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.

Dog walking

If you ask someone to walk your dog, make sure that you tell them how your dog behaves around:

  • traffic
  • people
  • children
  • dogs
  • wildlife.

Explain any training aids you use to help with walking and calling them back. This might include:

  • a harness
  • a long lead
  • toys and treats.

It may be better to suggest they keep your dog on the lead at first.

Local vets

Your local vet may be able to help. They might have a volunteer support scheme, or be able to recommend one. In these schemes, volunteers visit your home to care for your pet. Or they may temporarily look after pets in their own home. Your vet might also know of animal shelters that can help.

Pet charities and organisations

Charities or organisations may be able to find someone to look after your pet. Volunteers may be able to:

  • feed them
  • walk them
  • take them to the vets
  • provide companionship.

Organisations such as the The Cinnamon Trust or Petpals may be able to help with this. DogBuddy and Borrow My Doggy offer similar services but just for dogs. 

If you are using a charity, check any reviews and recommendations. You could also check whether their volunteers:

  • have had any animal training, including in animal first aid
  • are DBS checked
  • are insured.

Social workers

Social workers may be able to give you advice about pet care while you are in hospital. Your local social services department has a duty to protect your property if you are admitted to hospital. This includes any pets, if there is no one else to take care of them. You may be charged for this service.

Most cancer centres have a social worker you can speak to. If not, your GP should be able to refer you to one.

If you have to go into a nursing or residential home, you can try finding one that will allow pets. Many are listed on the Elderly Accommodation Counsel website.

Short-term animal fostering

Fostering is when someone else temporarily takes care of your pet. They usually do this in their own home or in a care centre. Many organisations will try to find a fosterer with a similar home to your own, so that your pet finds it easier to adjust.

Some fostering organisations will send photographs or updates about your pet while you are in hospital.

Most fostering services are provided by small charities and run by volunteers. Examples include the following:

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 pay for any vet bills.

Your vet may be able to tell you about local fostering services in your area. You could also find these services online or in your local newspaper.

Other short-term options

Local pet boarding services

If you can pay for pet care, you may want to consider using a boarding service, kennel or cattery. These can be expensive and may only be suitable for short periods of time. Some places may offer a discount if you are going to use the kennel or cattery many times over a few months. There are also home boarding services that care for pets.

Search online for local boarding services or ask your vet. Your pet will need to be fully vaccinated.

All animal boarding services need to be licenced every year with the local authority. It is a good idea to:

  • check they have a licence
  • get a recommendation
  • visit first, if you can.

Local pet sitting services

Another option is to have someone come to your house each day. They can feed and spend time with your pet, and walk them if needed. Organisations such as Petpals can arrange for someone to care for your pet. Their service covers the whole of the UK.

Search online for local sitting services, or ask your vet for a local recommendation.

You can find a registered pet sitter on the National Association of Registered Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers (NARP) website.

Help with vet bills

If you are worried you may not have enough money for the vet bills if your pet becomes unwell, contact your local vet and explain what you can afford. They may offer options at a reduced cost. Some pet insurance providers may help with providing treatment directly.

The following organisations can also help with the cost of pet care:

  • People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) provides low-cost and free vet care to the sick and injured pets of people in need. Depending on where you live and if you are on financial benefits, you may be eligible for support.
  • Cats Protection offers free and low-cost neutering in the UK.
  • Dogs Trust offers free and reduced-cost vet assistance for people who are in housing crisis or homeless.
  • Local branches of the RSPCA can sometimes help with vet bills.
  • StreetVet has teams of vets and nurses across the UK, providing care to dogs belonging to homeless people.

Planning for an emergency

Sometimes you may have to go into hospital at very short notice, and it might not be possible to arrange care for your pets. But you can plan for ahead for an emergency.

Think about who could look after your pets for you at short notice. This could be a neighbour or a nearby family member or friend. You may want to write their details on a card that you carry in your wallet or purse.

You can also write down:

  • your vet’s contact details and out-of-hours contact number
  • whether your pet needs treatment for any medical conditions, or a special diet.

Another option is to leave contact details of family members or friends with your solicitor and carry an emergency card that has the solicitor's details on it.

If you can no longer look after your pet

You may feel that you can no longer care for your pet. Or you may want to plan ahead in case you become unable to care for them.

You may want to ask any family members or friends if they are able to take on the care of your pet. If no one can help, you can ask your local vet.

If you have to find a new home for your pet, use an organisation or charity that specialises in finding the right home, such as National Animal Welfare Trust.

The following charities may also be able to help:

These charities all have free services that give your pet a home if you:

  • cannot look after your pet any more
  • die before them.

If you have thought about who you would like to look after your pet, it is important to make sure your wishes are recorded somewhere or written in your will. We have more information about making a will.

Your pet's health and well-being

If your pet is going to be looked after by someone else, it is a good idea to provide as much information as possible about their likes, dislikes and health. It will help your pet if they are able to keep to their normal routine as much as possible.

Include details such as:

  • what they eat and if they have any allergies
  • how regularly they are fed
  • their daily routine, including when they go for a walk and how much exercise they need
  • any equipment used to take them for a walk, for example a harness and treats
  • any behaviour issues and how they are managed
  • any household rules or training that is in place
  • how you reward them for good behaviour
  • vet details
  • any medical issues
  • any medication they are taking, and the dose
  • details of who to contact in an emergency
  • their favourite toys
  • how they respond to strangers, children, visitors to the home, and other animals
  • their microchip number in case they get lost.

You can also talk to your vet or any of the organisations listed above about how to help reduce your pet’s stress levels.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals, including Dr Sarah Merrett, Central Veterinary Officer and people living with cancer. It has been approved by members of Macmillan’s Centre of Clinical Expertise

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 August 2023
Next review: 01 August 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.