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February 5, 2024 | 3 minute read

Caring For Pets While You Have Cancer: What You Need to Know

Cuddling pets can be therapeutic, and many people rely on furry friends as a welcome respite from the rigors of cancer treatment. While dogs and cats can play a role in cancer prevention and treatment, there are a few important facts you need to know so you can keep yourself—and your pets—safe.

Pets and Emotional Support During Cancer Treatment

The company of a beloved pet may help you feel better when dealing with cancer treatment and its after-effects. A recent survey of pet owners with cancer found that 98 percent reported their pets were “extremely or very important in their recovery.”

A survey of patients undergoing chemotherapy found most pet owners agreed that their pet helped them to handle stress. Studies have also found that time spent with pets improved wellbeing, reduced pain and lowered rates of depression during cancer treatment.

Dogs and cancer prevention

Almost 40 percent of American households include a dog. Studies show that dog owners report feeling motivated to exercise and have a better sense of well-being because of their dog. Walking your dog helps you connect with neighbors, which provides socialization. Plus, walking in nature contributes to positive mental health. Exercise helps with cancer prevention, so thanks, Rover!

Protect Yourself During Treatment

While pets offer companionship and love, they can also accidentally provide illness when your immune system is compromised. Here’s what you can do to stay safe:

  • Keep up with your pets’ annual checkups and vaccinations.
  • Avoid pet scratches or bites and keep pets’ nails clipped.
  • Wear gloves and wash your hands after exposure to your pet’s body fluids or feces. Illnesses can be spread via pet urine or feces.
  • Saliva can carry illness, so don’t let your pet lick any open cuts or near your nose and mouth.
  • Avoid bringing home stray animals, puppies or kittens.
  • While adorable, baby chicks, ducks and turtles may carry salmonella. Avoid handling them.

Speak with your pet’s veterinarian and let them know about your cancer care. Find out if there are any pet-based illnesses (heartworms, fleas, ticks, etc.) you need to be wary of, and follow their advice for keeping your pet safe too.

Protect Your Pets During Treatment

While you’re in treatment, you’ll need to plan for your pet’s care, too. Write out instructions that includes your vet’s name and number, and the guidelines for feeding, cleaning and toileting your pet. Consider who can walk or feed your pet in case you are not feeling well. During active treatment, have a friend or family member clean the litterbox or bird cage, and consider automatic delivery of pet food and supplies.

After cancer treatment, such as chemo or radiation, keep trash and body waste away from pets. You don’t want them chewing on a tissue with chemo medications on it.

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