If your dog has been diagnosed with cancer you're bound to be feeling overwhelmed and have many questions. In this post, our Ambler vets give an overview of treatment options and some practical advice for dog owners.
Dogs With Cancer
If your dog has received a cancer diagnosis, it's easy to feel helpless and anxious. However, taking steps to educate yourself, find out which specialists your pet should see and care for your animal with cancer - and yourself - can bring a much-needed calmer perspective to the situation.
Following these 10 steps may help to ease your and your pet's stress and help you understand what to do when a veterinarian has told you, "Your pet has cancer."
Steps to Help You Deal With Your Dog's Cancer
1. Know that cancer in pets is common.
It's not unusual for pets to develop cancer. As an animal ages, their immune system becomes weaker and the risk of cancer increases, similar to people. You and your pet are not alone during these difficult times, as dogs also get cancer at about the same rate as humans (cats end up with fewer cancers).
While most cancers are found in senior pets, some breeds have higher rates of cancer than others. You may find it helpful to join pet communities, either on social media or in person. There may be some great support groups in your area for pet owners coping with sick animals. Finding solidarity and community with like-minded people in similar situations may help to counteract some of the fear, worry and isolation you may be experiencing.
Keep in mind that online groups are usually managed by other pet owners, not necessarily mental health practitioners. Consider counseling if you are feeling the need for more psychological support or grief support.
2. Discuss your pet's specific cancer with your vet.
In another similarity with people, pets can develop many types of cancer, each of which behaves differently. Cancer itself is a disease caused by the uncontrolled growth of cells in the body, and is often also referred to as malignancy and neoplasia. These other terms are often used interchangeably.
While some types of cancer are able to rapidly spread to other parts of the body far from the original site (metastasis), others may be more easily treated or surgically removed if they are caught early enough.
As with any diagnosis in a four-legged or two-legged creature, it's prudent to educate yourself about the disease, any options you may have for treatment and support, cost considerations and the advantages and disadvantages of treating your pet.
3. Learn about your pet's treatment options.
Several types of treatment and therapy options may be used to treat an animal with cancer, depending on the specific case and circumstances. These may include immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, surgery and/or palliative care when appropriate. While a single treatment or type of therapy may be used for some cancers, other types of the disease may require combination (two or more different types of therapies).
Some pet owners choose to enroll their pets in clinical trials to test newer (and hopefully more effective) types of therapy. These trials allow participants to learn more about a specific form of treatment and perhaps benefit your pet.
4. See a vet with oncology experience.
Your pet's cancer diagnosis is the first step in a long journey. You'll need to make numerous decisions about support, treatment and costs. Seeing a veterinary oncologist, or a vet with extensive experience treating dogs with cancer may help to clarify some aspects of your pet's diagnosis and get your questions answered. You may end up having the treatment course you originally chose as the best option or learn about new options for your pet.
At Spring House Animal Hospital Dr. Victoria Nelson, VMD, has more than 20 years of experience providing care and treatment for pets with cancer, and support for the people who love. Dr. Nelson provides dogs with cancer with the best possible oncological care.
After an official diagnosis is received from your vet, additional diagnostic testing (staging) can help to determine the extent of your dog's cancer. This will allow us to present targeted treatment options and better predict prognosis.
5. Become familiar with the terminology.
You may want to do a little reading before your visit us so you'll be familiar with some of the terms when it comes to veterinary oncology. When you connect with our veterinary oncology team we will explain what's happening in your pet's body, and work to help you to understand the veterinary medical language that we use when discussing cancer in pets. Be sure to take notes on treatment options and next steps that may be recommended. Please do not hesitate to ask questions - we are here to help!
6. Understand how tumors are tested.
The veterinarian may order several tests to help determine the extent of cancer in your dog's body. These may include urinalysis, radiographs (ultrasound or X-rays), biopsy, blood tests (blood count, chemistry profile) and tissue aspirates. The changing nature of veterinary cancer might require these tests to be done more than once.
Other tests that may be recommended include specialized radiologic studies (CT or MRI scans, dye contrast studies, lymph node aspirated, endoscopy, bone marrow aspirate and immunologic studies).
Once testing has been done, your veterinarian will be better able to understand the nature of the disease in your pet and review treatment options, including types of therapy. While tumors that have extensively metastasized (spread to other organs) are typically not curable, palliation may help to relieve symptoms and potentially prolong life without providing a cure. Tumors with the best chance of being treated or cured or those that have not invaded surrounding tissues.
7. Consider your pet's quality of life.
Cancer treatment for dogs and other pets focuses on alleviating pain and suffering as much as possible along with extending life and ensuring that quality of life is preserved, for as long as possible. Whether your pet's best days consist of going for a hike with you, finding a warm place to nap in the house or taking a dip in the lake, their quality of life is compromised when they can no longer enjoy these activities. Your veterinarian can sometimes prescribe medications or offer advice on how to manage symptoms to alleviate pain and suffering. Sometimes, euthanasia should be considered when the pet's quality of life is impacted beyond the point that this can be mitigated.
8. Understand the financial factors of dog cancer treatment.
While every pet owner would probably like to be able to say that money is no object when it comes to their pet's care, most do not have that option. Pet medical care can quickly become costly, so if you have pet insurance, now is the time to use it! If not, Spring House Animal Hospital offers CareCredit as a quick and easy financing option.
We will always provide a good-faith estimate of the cost of our services and discuss our written estimate with all clients before they leave our facility. A deposit will be required based on our estimate. Keep in mind that unforeseen circumstances can occur that affect your final bill.
9. Maintain a normal routine.
Fun activities such as playing with your dog's favorite toys, going for walks or ensuring they get outdoors for exercise will help you and your dog to maintain a healthy mindset. Pets enjoy routines that help them stay engaged and active, especially if they'll be visiting a vet for cancer treatments regularly.
10. Stay hopeful, but be realistic.
You and your pet need each other. While some pets may experience some discomfort due to therapy, cancer treatment for most pets can be accomplished without major distress or taking away from your pet's quality of or enjoyment of life. With you and your veterinarian's commitment to your pet's health and our state-of-the-art options for diagnostics and oncology care, we'll work as a team to keep your pet as healthy as possible.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.