How the Social Worker can help owners of pets with cancer

Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

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When we have a pet, we are attached, and the pet becomes a "person" and a part of the family. When our pet becomes ill, we might experience the same feelings as we would if a beloved member of the family is sick: sadness, crying, trouble sleeping, etc. Other things can get stirred up in your life by your animal's illness, e.g., memories of an earlier loss or currently someone has cancer or some other serious illness in the family. At this time you may want to talk with someone. Along with your veterinarian, there is a social worker who is part of the veterinary oncology team. The social worker is available for owners to talk with about their feelings.

The following might be some areas you might want to discuss with the social worker:

  1. You need information about hospital procedures.

  2. You are having an emotional reaction to your pet's illness, diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis.

  3. You need help with informing other family members of the situation with the pet, e.g. a mother with a 4-year old child.

  4. You are having an immediate emotional reaction to the death of your pet.

  5. You need help making a decision about putting your pet to sleep (euthansia).

  6. You need help making decisions about treating your pet.

  7. You want support and help in dealing with bereavement and grief reaction over time after the loss of your pet.

  8. You need to talk about the reaction of surviving pets to their "buddy's" loss.

  9. You have personal problems not related to the pet, e.g., finances, housing.

  10. You need information and education about your pet's illness and treatment and "translation" of medical terms.

  11. You are having trouble communicating with clinicians, e.g., emotional upset, language barriers, etc.

Along with individual contact, there is a support group for people whose pets are ill or who have died. The group meets every other week. It is people helping each other at this difficult time.

The social worker is a "listener" and doesn't give medical information, but will help you contact your veterinarian. If there is any way the social worker can help you, please do not hestitate to call. Quite often you will have met the social worker on our first visit to the clinic.


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