Inheriting a pet

Lorna Cowan / 08 December 2015

If you have inherited a dog, cat or other animal from a loved one it can be tricky to know how to adapt to this new pet in your life. Read our guide to find out what to do.



When a loved one dies, treasured belongings and family heirlooms are often passed down to the next generation. But how would you feel if your inheritance included a pet?

There are lots of reasons why you could be asked to care for a pet when its owner dies. The best reason is that you’re very fond of Fido, Tiddles or Tweety and are delighted to welcome it into your home. However, sometimes you inherit a pet because a parent, relative or neighbour has no one else to ask, or they assume you’re the best person for the job as you’ve always loved animals or already own pets. Whatever the reason, consider the following.

A change of surroundings

If the pet you’ve inherited is familiar with your house, then hopefully it will feel comfortable in its new home. But it could still take a while to properly settle in. 

For more tips, see our tips for settling in a new dog.

Children and other pets

Make sure a dog or cat has a ‘safe’ place to sleep, in a corner of a room perhaps, away from any hustle and bustle. Pets that have been used to a quiet life with an elderly owner may feel anxious if young children are now running around. Watch the behaviour of other pets too – they may not want to share their territory and your attention.

Keep a routine

Try to find out as much as possible about your new pet – what it eats, when, what routine it has and what commands, if any, it responds to. If this information wasn’t passed on to you, ask other friends and relatives if they know the pet’s history and habits.

Swot up

Owning a pet can be daunting, but it’s also very rewarding. First-time dog owners should read the RSPCA’s How to Take Care of your Dog leaflet. The Cats Protection has essential guides online too. There’s even good budgie advice from the PDSA.

Pets grieve too

We’re not the only ones who miss a loved one when they die. If a cat has spent every day on a warm lap, or a dog has been a faithful companion, they could be pining for their owner. If you notice they’ve lost their appetite or become lethargic, and this continues for a few days, consult a vet.

Plan for costs

Food costs don’t need to mount up, but dogs and cats do require annual vaccinations. If you’ll struggle to pay vet bills, try contacting the PDSA, a charity that offers treatment to those receiving certain benefits and who live within catchment areas of their hospitals and clinics. Alternatively, the RSPCA may be able to provide treatment at a reduced cost.

Consider insurance

One way of dealing with expensive and unplanned vet bills is to buy pet insurance. However, read the terms and conditions carefully as some policies don’t cover older animals and some won’t fork out if it’s an illness the pet has suffered from previously.

Think about holidays

There’s a chance you’ll have to pay for someone to care for your pet if you go on holiday. Some pet sitters are prepared to stay in your house, others will look after your pet in their own home. You can find dog-friendly accommodation in the UK, but some places have a one dog policy. 

Find out how to plan a dog-friendly holiday in the UK.

Dog walkers

You can still own a pet even if you work full-time. Cats are often able to fend for themselves, but Dogs Trust advise that a dog should not be left for more than four hours on its own, probably less if you think the dog suffers from separation anxiety. If a friend or neighbour can’t help out, put up a post for a dog walker in local shops or search online. Ask for references.

Getting help

If you really can’t look after the pet – maybe someone in the household is allergic to animal hair – don’t panic, you have options. Mention your dilemma to relatives and friends to see if they are keen, or contact an animal rescue centre for help. 

Find out how to care for a pet when you are ill.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.