How to Care for Your Pet When You Have Cancer


Photo by Andrew S on Unsplash

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. – George Eliot, English novelist & poet

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. – James Cromwell, American actor & activist

7 Recipes to Ease Common Cancer Side Effects


This creamy, flavorful millet bake is perfect for patients who need to add calories to their diet. Find more information in our list below. Visit our Virtual Kitchen for more recipes, all created to support the nutritional needs of people impacted by cancer.

Are you experiencing nausea, fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, taste changes, dry mouth, or weight loss? We share healthy recipes that can help you cope.

Different treatments and different kinds of cancer are going to affect your ability to eat in many different ways. It is important to try to stay nourished as much as possible.

CSC podcast, “Encore: Eating Well and Staying Active”

Cancer treatment can change the way your body processes food. It can also affect how you feel, and even the way food tastes. In addition to taste changes, side effects like fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and loss of appetite are common during treatment. – Alice Bender, Registered Dietitian, American Institute for Cancer Research

Eating healthy can help you curb these side effects and cope with related eating challenges. A nutritious diet has other benefits too. These include:

Eating healthy can help you curb these side effects and cope with related eating challenges. A nutritious diet has other benefits too. These include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Lowering the risk of infection
  • Improving overall sense of well-being

Here are 7 common side effects during cancer treatment and healthy recipes that can help.

1. Nausea

If you are feeling sick to your stomach, you probably don’t have much of an appetite. Did you know that an empty stomach can make nausea worse? So, eating a small amount of food every few hours can help minimize it.

For a soothing antidote to nausea, try our Ginger Turkey and Wild Rice Soup recipe. One of the key ingredients is ginger root, which has been shown to help soothe nausea. Broth-based soups like this one can also provide essential fluids and electrolytes.

Find Tips to Cope With Nausea and Vomiting

2. Fatigue

Feeling tired, weary, exhausted, or worn out? Fatigue is a common problem for people coping with cancer. It may be a side effect of your treatment or the cancer itself.

Making sure your body is hydrated and nourished can help you feel more energized. Start your day off with our Almond Banana Wheatberry Cereal to refuel your body with nutrients. Wheatberries are an ancient grain, high in fiber and protein, and have a nutty, chewy texture.

Need extra time to rest throughout the week? Make a full pot of Almond Banana Wheatberry Cereal for the week ahead and keep in your refrigerator. Then you can enjoy a nourishing bowl whenever you need to quickly replenish your body – morning, day, or night.

3. Diarrhea

Diarrhea can result from some chemotherapy drugs, certain surgical procedures, and radiation treatment to the pelvic area. The apples and oats in our Apple Cinnamon Muffin recipe provide soluble fiber, which can help minimize diarrhea. The best part? These muffins are made with pure maple syrup, giving them a touch of natural sweetness. You can also substitute peaches or berries for the apples in this recipe.

If you are experiencing more than 3 episodes of diarrhea in one day, contact your healthcare team. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration or changes in the levels of potassium and sodium in your body. Changes in these levels can be dangerous if not corrected.

4. Constipation

Lentils are a good source of iron, zinc, and B vitamins, among other important minerals. The legume can also help with constipation. Our Colorful Lentil Soup is bursting with color and flavor.

Another common side effect of treatment is constipation. This could happen for different reasons. Eating a low-fiber diet, not drinking enough fluid, and not being active are common culprits. Surgery, pain medications, and some chemotherapy drugs can also cause changes in normal bowel function.

Finding ways to incorporate gentle physical activity into your day can help. In addition, fiber-rich meals like our Colorful Lentil Soup can promote regular bowel movements. Easy to make in one pot, this recipe combines veggies like celery, carrots, tomatoes, and zucchini into a hearty, nourishing soup.

Discover Tips to Cope With Diarrhea and Constipation

5. Change in taste

Watch this 2-minute video to see how our mouthwatering Polenta With Fruit Compote is made. Using just a few simple ingredients, it’s a quick and easy recipe to help with changes in taste.

Have you noticed that foods don’t taste the same to you now? Some foods may taste like metal or chalk. Or you may find that foods have no taste at all. It’s common for cancer treatment to affect both taste and smell. In turn, this can impact your desire to eat. The good news is that changes in taste are usually temporary and go away after treatment ends.

In the meantime, our Polenta With Fruit Compote may help with the taste changes you’re experiencing. The recipe brings together maple syrup and tart berries for a fruity, flavorful treat. It’s an ideal meal or snack to cope with taste changes, aversions to sour taste, or difficulty swallowing. This compote is also packed with antioxidants and fiber.

6. Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is a common side effect of cancer treatment, namely chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These treatments can reduce the saliva in your mouth. If you are experiencing a dry mouth, you may notice that it’s harder to chew and swallow your food.

Find relief from dry mouth with our cool and soothing Cranberry Coconut Popsicle. This refreshing, 3-ingredient recipe is ideal for anyone experiencing dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, or mouth sores from radiation treatment. Unlike most popsicles, this frozen treat is nutritious too. It has fiber, healthy fat, and protein.

Need Nutrition Help?

Savor Health is a digital health company that provides precision nutrition interventions to manage cancer and other complex conditions. Their Intelligent Nutrition Assistant, Ina®, provides free, 24/7, unlimited, HIPAA-compliant, and secure nutrition services, all from your phone.

7. Weight Loss

Have you noticed that it is hard to gain or keep on weight? It may be a side effect of your cancer treatment or a loss of appetite, if you haven’t felt like eating.

Significant weight loss and muscle loss are associated with a condition called cancer cachexia. If you are experiencing significant weight loss, speak with your healthcare team.

If you are coping with minor weight loss, eating healthy, high-calorie foods may help you gain some weight. Our Cheesy Chicken Millet Bake is high in calories, protein, and fiber. The leeks and cheese give this recipe a rich flavor and creamy texture. If you love traditional chicken and rice casseroles, this recipe is one to try.

Get Tips to Cope With Weight Loss and Weight Gain

Always let your healthcare team know when you are experiencing any eating problems or side effects. They can help determine the most effective way to address them. Speaking with a registered dietitian can also be helpful. A dietitian can share recommendations to help you meet your nutritional requirements and keep your immune system strong. These strategies, combined with healthy eating, can boost your wellness during treatment and beyond.