We know the love and support that a pet brings into the lives of people with cancer and their loved ones. Caring for your pet when you have cancer can be challenging, and we are here to help. The Pet Assistance & Wellness Program (PAW) assists people undergoing cancer treatment with the challenges of keeping their cat or dog at home.

Key features of the PAW Program:

  • Education focused on caring for your pets throughout your cancer journey.
  • CancerCare’s case management, counseling and support groups, all free-of-charge.
  • Limited financial assistance to qualified individuals who are in active cancer treatment and share their home with a cat or a dog. This financial assistance will offset some of the expenses associated with pets including pet food; pet walking / sitting and other pet caregiving services; pet boarding fees; veterinarian expenses including vaccinations and appointment fees; flea, tick and heartworm prevention medications; and lab fees.

For more information on CancerCare’s Pet Assistance & Wellness Program, call our toll-free Hopeline 800-813-HOPE (4673), staffed Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET.

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If you’re lucky, a pet will come into your life, steal your heart and change everything.

The Wonderful Connection That People Share With Animals

Whether you are coming home from a long hard day at work and your pets greet you with a jump for joy and kisses to match, or you are lying in bed and they hop up beside you, snuggle in and make you feel like everything is going to be okay, there is no doubt that the bond that exists between humans and their pets is simply wonderful. And there are so many benefits to having a pet, especially if you are a cancer patient.

Pet Ownership This Year

This year alone, 1.2 million pets live with someone newly diagnosed with cancer.

What We Know So Far

Exercise. Studies have shown that exercise has huge benefits for cancer patients. And one of the easiest ways for “pet parents” to get their exercise, every day, is to take their pets for a walk.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the benefits of exercise are two-pronged. There are the more obvious benefits to your physical health, but exercise can also help your attitude, which is vital for people with cancer. Exercise is important before, during and after your cancer treatment. For example, dog walking several times a day will help you get up and out, but it will also give your dog somewhere to channel their energy.

Always discuss your exercise plan with your health care team, but once you get the all-clear, get out your pet’s lead and then get out and get active.

Stress management. Everyone gets stressed, but how you manage that stress is what matters most. And your pet can be an ideal way for you to decrease your stress levels throughout the day.

There have been many studies showing the beneficial effects pets have on reducing stress levels. One of those studies showed that human companions who are faced with stressful tasks or life events are less likely to have spikes in their heart rates.

Having chronic stress can put anyone’s health at risk but especially people undergoing cancer treatment. Living with a pet can help reduce your cortisol levels. Cortisol is the main stress hormone, and when it is elevated, it can negatively affect your immune system. Having your pet by your side can even lower your blood pressure, so never underestimate the power of that special bond with your pet. Stroking your pet can help control your cholesterol levels, too.

Emotional support. Caring for your pet can give structure to your day, but a pet’s effects run much deeper than that. Pets are your friends and can be ideal companions. They help you deal with the emotional challenges of cancer and their love is unconditional.

Living with a pet can lower your levels of loneliness, increase feelings of social support and boost your mood, too. As an example, bringing a dog for a walk on a regular basis is not only exercise but also a social outing, which may lessen the feeling of anxiety and isolation. Studies have shown that there is a huge difference between going for a walk on your own and going with your dog with respect to allowing you to interact with other people.

Some final thoughts. Clearly pets have many benefits, but is it safe to own a pet if you are a cancer patient? Yes, as long as you take the correct precautions. Talk to your health care provider team and ask them any questions you may have. (See also CancerCare’s “Suggested Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider Team”). Except in certain circumstances, you should be able to maintain that wonderful bond between you and your beloved pet.

The CancerCare® Pet Assistance and Wellness (PAW) Program

Founded in 1944, CancerCare is the leading national organization providing free support services and information to help people manage the emotional, practical and financial challenges of cancer. The financial assistance component of the CancerCare PAW Program has helped over 1,300 clients keep their pets in their homes.

This fact sheet is for people living with cancer and caring for their pets and it includes important information for them and their loved ones, as well as health care professionals and veterinarians.

Facebook: facebook.com/CancerCare
Instagram: @CancerCarePAW
Twitter: @CancerCare

Funding for this fact sheet is made possible by a generous grant from Amie’s Place Foundation, which funds organizations that create no-fee programs dedicated to keeping families and pets together safely.

For many pet owners, a cancer diagnosis is usually followed by the question: “Do I have to give up my pet?” With the right precautions, however, a cancer patient can continue to live with and love their pets.

Should I Keep My Pet?

Yes, many health care providers actively encourage cancer patients to continue to care for their pets and, in some instances, adopt a pet.

What You Should Know

Can I give my pet cancer? No, you cannot give your pet cancer. Cancer is not contagious between human beings and their pets. There is no biological mechanism for any transmission of cancer from person to animal or from animal to person.

I have cancer—will any of my cancer treatments harm my pet? Your cancer treatments will not make your pet ill, except in rare instances. One example is brachytherapy, where your radioactive implant can cause issues, especially if you have a small pet. Precautions also need to be taken when it comes to the following types of tests: PET (positron emission tomography); certain CT (computed tomography); and certain MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). For further information, please see CancerCare’s Fact Sheets: “What to Know if You Are Undergoing Radiation Therapy and Have a Pet” and “What to Know if You Are Undergoing Chemotherapy and Have a Pet.”

Will my medication harm my pet if ingested by accident? Yes, if your pets come into contact with your medication, it can make them very ill. You should bring your pets to the veterinarian straight away if they ingest your drugs. As an example, drugs such as ibuprofen have been known to cause kidney failure in some animals.

Should I bring my pets to the veterinarian and make sure they are up-to-date on vaccines, etc.? Yes, after your cancer diagnosis, it is advisable to bring your pets to the veterinarian to ensure they are up-to-date on vaccines and medications. An unhealthy pet has the potential to cause harm to a cancer patient, especially if the cancer patient is immunocompromised. It is important that your pet has no fleas, ticks and parasites. Your veterinarian can work with you to determine the appropriate tests and treatments for your pets.

Can I clean my cat’s litter box? Yes, most cancer patients will be able to clean their cats’ litter boxes, especially if they take precautions such as wearing a mask and gloves. However, you should consult with your health care provider regarding the safety of cleaning a litter box if you are severely immunocompromised or receiving total body radiation.

Do I need to put the toilet seat down? Yes, after your cancer treatments, you should keep the toilet lid in your home closed to prevent your pet from drinking contaminated water out of the toilet bowl. You may be excreting some of the drugs that are in your system and animals should never be exposed to these toxins.

Is it safe to allow my pet outside? You should not allow your pet to play outside with wild or stray animals, sick animals or animals that you are unsure are under veterinarian care. You should also ensure your pet is kept on a leash or under close supervision when it is outside.

Can I Give My Pet COVID-19?

Much is still unknown regarding COVID-19. A number of animals have tested positive, including cats and dogs. If there is a positive COVID-19 case in your household, you should isolate yourself away from your pets just as you would with other members of your family.

Please Note

Immunocompromised—Having a weakened immune system. People who are immunocompromised have a reduced ability to fight infections and other diseases.
Source: https://www.cancer.gov

Some final thoughts. Is it safe to have a pet if you are a cancer patient? Yes, as long as you take the correct precautions. Talk to your health care provider team and ask them any questions you may have. (See also CancerCare’s “Suggested Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider Team”). Except in certain circumstances, you should be able to maintain that wonderful bond between you and your beloved pet.

The CancerCare® Pet Assistance and Wellness (PAW) Program

Founded in 1944, CancerCare is the leading national organization providing free support services and information to help people manage the emotional, practical and financial challenges of cancer. The financial assistance component of the CancerCare PAW Program has helped over 1,300 clients keep their pets in their homes.

This fact sheet is for people living with cancer and caring for their pets and it includes important information for them and their loved ones, as well as health care professionals and veterinarians.

Facebook: facebook.com/CancerCare
Instagram: @CancerCarePAW
Twitter: @CancerCare

Funding for this fact sheet is made possible by a generous grant from Amie’s Place Foundation, which funds organizations that create no-fee programs dedicated to keeping families and pets together safely.

The Common Questions

Your cancer team often hears questions about the potential impact of chemotherapy on pets, and this fact sheet includes some of the most common questions that arise.

Can I harm my pet as a result of my chemotherapy? When cancer patients receive chemotherapy, they may see their health care team taking great care to avoid having the chemotherapy come into direct contact with their own skin. There is a common misconception that after treatment a cancer patient may harm their pets if the patient comes into contact with them. Fortunately, this is not the case.

Once chemotherapy is given to a patient and it circulates through the body, a patient cannot pass the chemotherapy through their hands when they pet their cat or dog. There is also no danger that the patient’s breath can harm their pet.

If you have any questions about when you should be avoiding contact with your pets as a result of your chemotherapy - or other cancer treatments - the general rule is that you should ask your health care team.

Should I take any special precautions related to my chemotherapy? Always keep your chemotherapy (and any other medications you are taking) out of reach of your pet, whose natural tendency is to chew everything in sight! Chemotherapy and other drugs can be extremely harmful and if your pet ingests them, call your veterinarian immediately. As well, ibuprofen can be particularly harmful and has even been known to cause kidney failure if animals ingest it in large quantities.

One particular area that chemotherapy patients need to be careful about is IV tubing. If you are using IV tubing and have a pet, it is crucial that you take great care to ensure that your pet does not come into contact with the tubing. Dogs and cats may see it as a toy to play with and they have even been known to chew on the tubing. Be careful to prevent a situation where your pet could chew through the tubing to the chemotherapy inside.

Chemotherapy Treatment

When you are undergoing chemotherapy, you can generally empty your cat’s litterbox. Speak with your health care team to make sure they think it is safe for you to do so.

Cancer Treatments

There are so many new treatments for cancer that you need to be sure to ask your health care team for the most up-to-date information about how your treatment may impact your pet.

Some final thoughts. Is it safe to have a pet if you are a cancer patient receiving chemotherapy? Yes, as long as you take the correct precautions. Talk to your health care provider team and ask them any questions you may have. (See also CancerCare’s “Suggested Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider Team”). Except in certain circumstances, you should be able to maintain that wonderful bond between you and your beloved pet.

The CancerCare® Pet Assistance and Wellness (PAW) Program

Founded in 1944, CancerCare is the leading national organization providing free support services and information to help people manage the emotional, practical and financial challenges of cancer. The financial assistance component of the CancerCare PAW Program has helped over 1,300 clients keep their pets in their homes.

This fact sheet is for people living with cancer and caring for their pets and it includes important information for them and their loved ones, as well as health care professionals and veterinarians.

Facebook: facebook.com/CancerCare
Instagram: @CancerCarePAW
Twitter: @CancerCare

Funding for this fact sheet is made possible by a generous grant from Amie’s Place Foundation, which funds organizations that create no-fee programs dedicated to keeping families and pets together safely.

The Common Questions

Your cancer team often hears questions about the potential impact of radiation therapy on pets, and this Fact Sheet includes some of the most common questions that arise.

Can I harm my pet as a result of my radiation treatment? Good news! In most instances the fact that you are having radiation therapy will not impact your ability to interact with your pet. However, there are three situations where you may need to speak with your cancer team.

  • You need to be concerned if you are having brachytherapy. If you have a permanent radioactive implant, you are temporarily radioactive. Therefore, you should avoid having animals sitting on your lap. The amount of time you need to take precautions depends on the type of implant you receive. You will want to talk with your health care team about how long you should avoid contact between your pet and the area where the implant was placed.

  • If you are being treated with radioactive iodine, it may be recommended that you do not sleep with your pets for several days or weeks. Again, speak with your health care team for the specific timeframe for your situation. You should also take care to wash your hands a bit more frequently if you are in close contact with your pets.

  • If you are having a positron emission tomography, also called a PET scan, there may also be restrictions that you should discuss with your radiology team. For example, you will want to avoid close interaction with pets less than two years old, for several hours following the PET scan.

Can my pet hurt me while I’m on treatment? Your pet generally can’t hurt you, but there are a few instances you should keep in mind. Keep your pet’s nails trimmed to decrease the risk of scratches. You’re usually safe to sleep in bed with your pet, but it depends where you are in your treatment and how at risk you are for severe infection. Some patients get infections and cellulitis due to scrapes from their pets. You are more likely to get a scrape if your pet moves its paws in its sleep, or if you are a person who is restless in bed and rolls onto your pet.

If you end up with a scratch or a bite and you are on active treatment, you should be evaluated at your cancer center. However, if your pet bites or scratches you and that results in a severe wound, you should be evaluated immediately at an emergency room.

In general, emptying your cat’s litter box typically can’t hurt you unless you are on total body radiation. That is the one radiation treatment that does significantly compromise immune function.

Will I be able to take care of my pet when I’m undergoing radiation therapy? Many patients on radiation treatment worry that there may be times that they don’t feel well enough to take care of their pet. Fortunately, most patients receiving radiation are able to keep up with their daily activities. There aren’t typically restrictions. Except in rare situations, you are not radioactive, you are not going to emit radiation, you are not going to hurt anyone in your household or your animal. In fact, you are often not immunocompromised for the most part. You can go about your normal activities.

We have good evidence that if you are able to maintain your activities, like walking a dog, it’s actually very helpful for you. If you continue your normal day-to-day life and stay physically active, it’s a win-win scenario. It will improve your mood and energy during treatment, and it increases your long-term health outlook, especially in terms of cardiovascular and pulmonary health.

Some final thoughts. Is it safe to have a pet if you are a cancer patient receiving radiation? Yes, as long as you take the correct precautions. Talk to your health care provider team and ask them any questions you may have. (See also CancerCare’s “Suggested Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider Team”). Except in certain circumstances, you should be able to maintain that wonderful bond between you and your beloved pet.

Radiation Treatment

You can empty your cat’s litterbox as long as you are not receiving total-body radiation (which is typically given on an inpatient basis).

The CancerCare® Pet Assistance and Wellness (PAW) Program

Founded in 1944, CancerCare is the leading national organization providing free support services and information to help people manage the emotional, practical and financial challenges of cancer. The financial assistance component of the CancerCare PAW Program has helped over 1,300 clients keep their pets in their homes.

This fact sheet is for people living with cancer and caring for their pets and it includes important information for them and their loved ones, as well as health care professionals and veterinarians.

Facebook: facebook.com/CancerCare
Instagram: @CancerCarePAW
Twitter: @CancerCare

Funding for this fact sheet is made possible by a generous grant from Amie’s Place Foundation, which funds organizations that create no-fee programs dedicated to keeping families and pets together safely.

What to Know if You Are Undergoing Radiation Therapy and Have a Pet

Watch Dr. Fumiko Chino, a treating radiation oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, discuss what you need to know if you are receiving radiation therapy and have a pet.

For Cancer Patients and Their Loved Ones With Pets: What Your Veterinarian Would Like You to Know

If you or your loved one has cancer, your veterinarian would like you to know:

  • It’s important that your pets are up to date on their vaccines, fecal testing and anti-parasitic medications for fleas, ticks and skin mites.

  • Make sure your pets’ toenails are short and smooth so you don’t get scratched. (Cancer patients occasionally get infections and cellulitis due to scrapes from their pets.)

  • If your pet has had any parasites recently and you are immunocompromised*, it’s important to let your veterinarian know. They will want to discuss with you how to ensure that your pets’ parasites won’t harm you.

Note: Immunocompromised means having a weakened immune system. People who are immunocompromised have a reduced ability to fight infections and other diseases.
https://www.cancer.gov

  • If you think your pet has ingested any of your cancer or other medications (such as oral chemotherapy or even ibuprofen), contact your veterinarian immediately.

  • If you’re comfortable, please let your veterinarian know about your cancer diagnosis. Your veterinarian and you can plan for how to best take care of your pets during your cancer treatment. For example, your treatment may occasionally result in your having difficulties with routine pet duties such as dog walking, lifting heavy things such as large bags of pet food, etc. Your cancer treatment may also result in your experiencing fatigue on occasion. Having a plan in place for your pet that includes family, friends, colleagues - or even your friendly veterinarian –can give you the peace of mind to know that your beloved pet is well taken care of.

CancerCare would like you to know:

If you need additional educational resources related to how you can best care for your pet as you or your loved one undergoes cancer treatment, you can find a number of helpful CancerCare resources including:

CancerCare also provides limited financial assistance (depending upon the availability of funding) to cancer patients who meet eligibility requirements to help with costs related to taking care of pets. For additional information, please call 800-813-HOPE (4673).

Funding for this fact sheet is made possible by a generous grant from Amie’s Place Foundation, which funds organizations that create no-fee programs dedicated to keeping families and pets together safely.

Question Guide for Cancer Patients with a Pet: Suggested Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider Team

Here are a few questions to speak to your health care team about how your cancer diagnosis and treatments may impact your ability to safely take care of your pet and yourself.

  1. Am I immunocomprised* to a level that would affect my ability to interact with my pet? If so, in what ways?
    Note: Immunocompromised — Having a weakened immune system. People who are immunocompromised have a reduced ability fight infections and other diseases.
    https://www.cancer.gov

  2. Do you think my cancer and cancer treatments will limit the amount of physical attention I can give my pet?
    Note: If your health care team thinks your cancer treatments may result in your having fatigue on occasion, creating a plan for your pet that includes family, friends, colleagues and others can give you the peace of mind to know that your beloved pet is taken care of.

  3. When would it be safe for me to touch my pet after my various cancer treatments take place?
    Note: Speak specifically with your health care team regarding PET (positron emission tomography) or CT (computer tomography) scans; certain radiation therapy procedures and any other treatments your doctor thinks might put your pet at risk.

  4. Should I contact you:

  • If my pet bites or scratches me?
  • If I accidentally come into contact with pet’s urine or feces?
  • In any other situations related to my pet?

Funding for this fact sheet is made possible by a generous grant from Amie’s Place Foundation, which funds organizations that create no-fee programs dedicated to keeping families and pets together safely.

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