Pet care

It can be difficult to look after a pet when you have cancer. This may be because of the effects of cancer or its treatment, or because you need to go into hospital or a residential or nursing home. Some people may worry about who will care for their pet after their death.

For short hospital stays, you could get help from:

  • neighbours, friends or family
  • your local vet
  • pet charities or fostering charities
  • social workers.

If you can pay for pet care, you could also consider:

  • boarding kennels or catteries
  • pet sitters.

Making sure your pet has their favourite toy or something that smells of you can help reassure them while you are away. Try to carry a card with details of who will look after your pet in an emergency and who your vet is.

If you decide that you cannot look after your pet, there are charities that can help find them a new home. Some nursing homes allow you to bring your pet with you.

You may also wish to think about who you would like to care for your pet if you die. You can include details in your will.

When support may be needed

Many people live alone but have the companionship of a pet. Looking after a pet can sometimes become a problem because of cancer and its treatment. This can be a very distressing time. You may need to plan to make sure your pet is looked after.

You may be worried if you:

  • are struggling to look after your pet
  • are no longer able to look after your pet
  • have to go into hospital for a time
  • have to move into a nursing or residential home
  • do not know who will look after your pet if you die.

Who can help?

If you can, ask friends, neighbours or family members who live close by. They may be able to help you, and your pet is more likely to know and trust them. They may be able to visit your home to feed your pet and provide extra care, such as walking your dog.

Family and 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 and is not always suitable.

Your local vet may be able to help. 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. Your vet might also know of animal shelters in your area that may be able to help.

You may be able to get help from charities or organisations such as The Cinnamon Trust or Petpals. They may be able to find someone to look after your pet, including feeding them, keeping them clean and providing companionship. DogBuddy and Borrow My Doggy offer similar services but just for dogs.

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

Short-term animal fostering

You may have to go into hospital, or into a nursing or residential home, for a short time. Often, pets are not allowed. Your neighbours, friends and family may be able to help. If there is no one to look after your pets, you may need to have them fostered.

Some nursing and residential homes will allow you to bring your pet, so it is always worth asking. Many pet friendly homes are listed on the Housing Care: Information for older people website.

Fostering involves someone else temporarily taking care of your pet. They usually do this 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 are in hospital. Some can even send you photographs of your pet.

Most fostering services are provided by small charities and run by volunteers. They get 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 bills.

There are several national organisations and charities that may be able to help you, depending on your circumstances. This includes The Cinnamon Trust and Pet Fostering Service Scotland. Your vet may be able to tell you about local fostering services in your area. Local fostering services may also be listed in your local newspaper or have websites that you can find by searching online.

I am a widow with no family, but a good friend offered to stay in my home and look after my cats for however long it was necessary.


Other short-term options

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.

Contact details of local boarding services should be in your phone book or online. Your vet may also be able to suggest some. It is a good idea to try to get a recommendation and visit a boarding service first if you can. All animal boarding services need to be licenced every year, so it is worth checking they have a licence too.

Another option is to have someone come to your house each day. They can feed and spend time with your pet and, if necessary, walk them. Organisations such as Petpals can arrange for someone to care for your pet. Their service covers the whole of the UK. 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 or online. Again, it is a good idea to discuss this with your vet, who may be able to recommend a local service. You can find a registered pet sitter on the National Association of Registered Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers (NARP) website.

Finding another home for your pet

Sometimes, 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.

The Cinnamon Trust can provide long-term care for pets whose owners have moved to residential accommodation that does not take pets. The National Animal Welfare Trust specialise in finding new homes for pets. Other local organisations and charities and national organisations should also be able to help. These include:

Your vet can also give you advice.

If you pet has a microchip, the registered owner details will need to be updated. This is important, just in case they ever become lost. If your pet is a dog, the law requires that the details of the new owner are updated on the microchip database. This should be done once the dog is regarded as ‘normally’ living at a new home. This would be after 1 or 2 months.

The charity ‘fast-tracked’ us because of our situation. I gave them details and they rang back the next day having found three volunteers to help walk our two Jack Russells!


Planning for an emergency

Sometimes you may have to go into hospital at very short notice, and it might not be possible to make arrangements for your pets. But you can plan for an emergency in case one should ever happen.

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 who your vet is, and whether your pet has any medical conditions that need on-going treatment, 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.

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. Passing on information about your pet will help to reduce the number of things that have changed in your pet’s life.

Things to think about include:

  • what they eat
  • how regularly they are fed
  • what their daily routine is
  • how you reward them for good behaviour
  • who your vet is
  • what medical issues they have, if any.

Some pets can become stressed if they are being looked after by people they do not know very well, or if they have to move home. It can help to make sure they have familiar objects with them, such as their favourite toys and bedding. It is also useful if they have things that smell of their owner, such as a jumper. Make sure you provide your pet’s harness or lead if they have one.

It can help to give the pet somewhere safe to relax, where they are not disturbed. This creates a sense of safety and security. For example cats will enjoy having places to hide, and may want to be higher up and rest on top of wardrobes.

Some pets are calmed by artificial pheromones. These 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 Adaptil (DAP)®, which is available as a room diffuser, spray and collar. These products do not work for all animals. Your vet can give you more information.

I have an active dog that needs walking twice a day, and I wasn’t physically fit to do that. So one of my sisters took responsibility for walking Bonny every day.


What will happen to my pet if I die?

It is a good idea to make arrangements for your pets after your death. You can leave specific details about your pets in your will.

If you have no family members or friends that can take your pets, several charities run re-homing services if a pet owner dies. You will usually have to register with the service. You may be given a wallet-sized card to carry that has details of the service and your arrangements for your pet. It is also a good idea to tell your family or the executor of your will. After your death, the charity will collect the pet and make sure it goes to a new, loving home.

National charities offering this service include the following:

You may be able to find a local charity that offers a similar re-homing service. You could ask your vet or search online.

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