The Dos and Don'ts of Helping a Friend Whose Pet Has Cancer


The Bible, Glamour and parenting websites all have one thing in common: eponymous lists of dos and don’ts.

But when it comes to supporting someone whose pet has a potentially life-threatening illness, such as cancer, there aren't too many primers out there to tell you what you should and should not do — or even say. So we rounded up our top dos and don'ts for helping a friend or family member through this tough time.

Please Do

Be There — and Mean It. For many pet owners, it's comforting just to know that there's someone whom they can call to assist them with administering medications, or someone who can spend an afternoon with them in the vet’s office. So if you're asked to help, do it.

Take Time to Listen. Sometimes simply talking things through helps pet owners organize their priorities when it comes to decision-making. Go ahead and be that person who listens to the same story over and over again about the nice oncologist or the intricacies of chemotherapy protocol.

Go to Google. While the pet owner is busy taking care of the animal, research pet cancer and pet loss support groups in your area — and then send your friend the best ones.

Speak Up When the Time Is Right. Only offer your opinion when asked — and only if you have all the facts. If your friend needs your input, ask questions so that you're sure you have all the information you'll need to give appropriate advice. You may even think of something that your friend hasn't considered, which could unexpectedly help with decision-making.

Live in the Moment With Your Friend. A pet’s prognosis can change from moment to moment, so celebrate treatment successes, as well as offer a shoulder to cry on when things take a turn for the worst.

Send Flowers or Make a Tribute Gift. A simple reminder of your sympathy can be a great pick-me-up. Tribute gifts are an excellent way to show your support, especially if the money goes toward canine or feline cancer research or to an animal shelter.

Please Don't

Pretend That Nothing Is Wrong. If you notice that your friend’s pet is shaved or bandaged, ask if she feels up to talking about the obvious health issue. If tests or biopsies are pending, don’t forget to ask again later.

Bring Up the Age Issue. Let's face it: We all secretly hope that our pet will be that 20-year-old dog or 25-year-old cat. So mentioning an animal's age isn't helpful to someone who's struggling with a pet’s mortality.

Ask About Money. Cancer therapy can be expensive, and your friend’s veterinarian has already discussed the responsibilities and sacrifices involved in the treatment protocol.

Avoid the Topic of Euthanasia. For pets with cancer, there are often multiple treatment options, including euthanasia. Your friend knows this decision may be in the near future, so support, empathize and sympathize without being judgmental.

Suggest Getting Another Pet. Beloved animals are not easily replaced. Could you handle training a puppy, while caring for a seriously ill pet? However, when they do get a new pet, celebrate the news without comparing that animal to the old one.

Keeping all of these things in mind will help your friend know that you are there for them during this scary time.

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 NYC, providing primary care to her long-term patients, and specialty care to pets with cancer and blood disorders.


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