Coping With Pet Cancer: How to Let Friends Help Without Overburdening Them

When a Pet Has Cancer
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When a beloved pet falls ill with a serious disease like cancer, friends can sometimes be the first people we turn to for comfort. But what can the owner of a canine or feline cancer patient do to take advantage of this support without overtaxing or unduly upsetting the people who are trying to help? Here are some ideas for navigating this tough time.

Tap Into Social Media

Twitter, Facebook and other social media venues are great tools that can help you easily communicate with multiple friends and family at the same time and keep them up to date. In the human health world, there are also private support websites, like CaringBridge, for patients and their families. One support website like this for pet folk is Fight Dog Cancer. Using tools like these means you'll be able to tell your "story" fewer times — and save more time and energy to care for your sick pet. If your pet's cancer has resulted in a recommendation for a limb amputation, a visit to Tripawds can help answer your friends' questions and yours.

Take Time to Listen

Sometimes your friends and casual acquaintances may not fully understand your pet's situation. It's OK not to listen to their advice. But if your closest friends and supporters — those who truly understand the nuances of your pet’s cancer treatment — are all saying the same thing, it's time to listen and seriously consider heeding their advice, assuming that the advice is in line with what your veterinarian is recommending.

Consider Feelings

Other people love your pet too. Probably not as much as you do, but a whole lot. They are used to seeing the two of you interact or hearing about your joint escapades, so understand their need to also grieve over the loss of your pet. Be sensitive about the fact that they may be uncomfortable when they see you without your pet on a walk, or when they bump into you in the supermarket parking lot.

Show Gratitude

Thank friends for reading your patient support website, watching your sick pet while you are out running errands, taking you to the veterinarian’s office, waiting for hours while your pet has a crisis in the E.R. — and for listening. You know that you've talked about your sick pet too much, but you just can’t help it right now.

Return the Favor

When you feel ready, read about Vetstreet's dos and don’ts for helping a friend or family member cope with a pet who has cancer — and learn how to help someone else over this life hurdle.


Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a practicing veterinarian for 25 years, is board-certified in both oncology and internal medicine. She maintains her clinical practice at The Animal Medical Center in New York City, providing primary care to her long-term patients and specialty care to pets with cancer and blood disorders. 

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