FOR MANY PEOPLE AFFECTED BY CANCER, the comfort and love offered by their pets as they navigate treatment, recovery and survivorship can be invaluable. Yet the physical and financial strains of treatment can exacerbate the challenges of providing adequate care for a pet.

Furry Friends

The physical effects of cancer and its treatment can make the basic tasks of caring for an animal—such as taking a spirited dog for a walk or lugging a heavy bag of pet food back from the store—much more difficult. If you’re looking for ways to help a friend or loved one who has a pet, consider asking whether they would appreciate assistance with these jobs.

Patricia Goldsmith, the CEO of the patient support organization CancerCare based in New York City, knows all too well how much a pet can mean to those going through cancer treatment. She’s spent the last 25 years working with patients and survivors and has experienced firsthand the beneficial effect of having her pets nearby when she received cancer treatment herself. Having observed many instances where individuals found pet care more difficult due to their cancer and its treatment, Goldsmith spearheaded the development of CancerCare’s Pet Assistance and Wellness (PAW) Program.

In 2018, CancerCare conducted a survey of its clients to gauge the potential impact of the initiative. Of the 130 respondents, 84% had a pet; among those, 60% had a dog and 34% had a cat. When asked if they had any difficulties in performing pet-related tasks, 79% mentioned costs; 64% cited their lack of ability to walk, lift or bend down; and 30% were concerned about the risk of infections due to being immunocompromised from treatments. When asked what tasks were difficult or impossible to perform, a majority of respondents noted problems paying for pet food, paying for veterinary care, shopping for pet food and getting to the vet.

Getting in Touch

Information on CancerCare’s Pet Assistance & Wellness Program is available online or by calling 800-813-HOPE (4673) Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET.

PAW offers a free online education course taught by health care professionals and a veterinarian that addresses some of the challenges and dispels common myths about being a cancer patient with a pet.

The program also provides a digital booklet with practical information on caring for your pets when you have cancer. For those struggling financially, PAW offers limited financial assistance to those who are in active treatment and have a dog or cat.