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My Dog Has Just Been Diagnosed With Cancer What Are My Options?
Learn more about cancer treatment options for pets
Learning that your pet has cancer is (understandably) a huge emotional blow – but like with many diseases our pets get, treatment options are readily available.
Talk to your veterinarian about a timeline for decision-making: does your pet’s condition require you to make a decision in the next few minutes, hours, days, or weeks? Unless your pet is critically ill, you probably have time to sleep on this information, so that you can avoid making an impulse decision and instead decide on the best approach for your individual situation.
Approaches To Cancer
In most cases, your veterinarian can provide a general overview of care options for your pet’s cancer. However, that discussion of treatment options, expected prognosis, and other details can easily lead to “information overload.” If you feel overwhelmed, the easiest approach is to simplify.
In general, there are three basic approaches to cancer:
- Palliative care
Cancer treatment approaches vary, depending on the type of cancer. In some cases, surgical removal of the tumour may be the only required treatment. For many types of cancer, more comprehensive treatment is needed; these cancers may require radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or both.
The good news is that most dogs and cats are relatively tolerant of the side effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy and the aim is to give your pet a good quality of life. Side effects are usually manageable and only last a short time.
Palliative care involves treatments that keep your pet comfortable and improve quality of life, usually without the goal of a cure. These treatments might include corticosteroids (such as prednisolone), non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and pain medications. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also be used for palliative care, to stabilise tumour growth and relieve pain.
Depending on your pet’s condition, euthanasia maybe a consideration. If your dog’s quality of life is rapidly deteriorating, euthanasia is sometimes the most humane option. Euthanasia is derived from the Greek words for “good death;” with the goal of euthanasia being to provide a peaceful and pain-free death for suffering pets.
Losing a pet is one of the saddest things we can experience. Let yourself grieve – remember the grief is normal, be gentle with yourself, and seek help if needed.
Choosing The Best Approach For Your Pet
When determining which approach is best for your pet, there are a number of factors to consider.
These factors include:
- Your pet’s quality of life at this time
- Your pet’s expected quality of life with treatment
- Cost and side effects of treatment
- Prognosis with and without treatment
- Your veterinarian may be able to answer many of your questions regarding your pet’s prognosis and treatment, helping you narrow down the list of possible options.
Consulting An Oncologist
While your veterinarian can be a helpful resource, you may benefit from a consultation with an oncologist. These specialists focus solely on the treatment of pets with cancer; therefore, they have a valuable combination of training and experience that better equips them to help your pet and their condition. A visit with a trusted oncologist can help you better understand your pet’s diagnosis and treatment options.
Questions that you may wish to ask the oncologist include:
- What does my pets’s diagnosis mean?
- How severe is my pets’s cancer?
- What are my treatment options?
- How much of a time commitment is required if I pursue treatment?
- Are there special foods/diets I should be organising or avoiding for my pet?
- What signs should look out for to know if something is wrong?
- How do I know if my pet is in pain?
An oncologist can also provide you with an estimate of the expected costs associated with treatment. If you have pet insurance, check with your provider to determine whether cancer treatments are covered and whether there are any limits to that coverage
Stay Calm, For The Benefit Of Your Pet
Receiving a cancer diagnosis for your pet is stressful. During this time, it’s helpful to establish a support network that can help you navigate decisions regarding your pet’s care. Friends and family can be a valuable support network, and you might also want to seek out an online support group for owners of dogs with cancer. You may even be able to find a support group for your dog’s specific cancer diagnosis.
Making efforts to manage your stress will not only help you, but it will also help your pet. Our pets feed off our energy and can pick up on our emotional states. Remaining calm and positive will minimize stress to your pet, as will attempting to maintain your normal routine as much as possible.
If you would like to discuss your pet’s cancer diagnosis with an oncologist, please contact SASH – The Small Animal Specialist Hospital.
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