Hearing that your pet has cancer is news that no loving pet parent wants. If your pet has been diagnosed with cancer, you might be wondering if veterinary oncology (specialized cancer care) is the right choice. Although we don't provide veterinary oncology services, our Long Island vets would like to share common types of cancer, as well as treatment options and other considerations for pet parents.
Cancer in cats and dogs is a common illness, and as in humans with the same condition, the treatment and prognosis vary greatly based on a number of factors (e.g. overall health, age, genetic propensity). When it comes to treating the disease in pets, the focus is often on pain management and ensuring their comfort and quality of life, and veterinary oncology can play a big role in treatment for your four-legged friend.
Cancer Is Common
Due to a longer overall life expectancy in pets thanks to improvements in nutrition, parasite and disease prevention, and other veterinary advances, cancer is now a leading cause of death in domestic dogs and cats. While this is mixed news, treatment options for animals with cancer are far more effective than in the past – in fact, many of the treatments and procedures used to treat cancer in humans are adapted for use on animals.
There Are Different Kinds Of Cancer
Like their loving humans, cats and dogs can develop a wide variety of cancers. Your veterinarian or veterinary oncologist will perform a number of diagnostic tests like X-rays, ultrasounds, bloodwork, biopsies, and sometimes even CT or MRI scans to identify the stage to which your pet's illness has advanced. This provides them with the information they need to identify the type and location(s) of the cancer, which helps them make decisions on the best source of treatment.
Although every cat and dog is different, the following are some cancers commonly seen in pets:
- Bladder cancer
- Breast tissue tumors
- Anal gland tumors
The treatment or management recommended by your veterinary oncologist will depend on a number of factors that are determined by a physical examination and cancer screening.
Treatment Options For Cancer In Pets
There are a number of options for addressing cancer in dogs and cats - surgical and non-surgical alike. If the cancer is localized (in a single area), the tumor can often be surgically removed by a vet surgeon or oncologist. For other cancers that have spread, are systemic or beyond a tumor, there are other treatments available, including:
- Radiation therapy
- Stereotactic radiosurgery
- Adoptive cell therapy
Chemotherapy For Pets
This treatment option affects animals differently from humans, who often experience intense side effects (severe nausea, immunosuppression, weakness/exhaustion, hair loss) as a result of chemotherapy. The doses of medication used for veterinary chemotherapy aren't strong enough to cause these side effects, and pets are usually able to withstand treatment well. Your veterinary oncologist will balance the effectiveness of the medication with minimal side effects for the animal.
Visiting A Veterinary Oncologist
Although your primary veterinarian has expertise in treating many of your pet's problems, cancer treatment is usually complex and requires the experience of a veterinary specialist. Primary veterinarians and veterinary oncologists work together to diagnose and treat your cat or dog, and seeking a referral from your vet to have your pet seen by a vet oncologist is a good first step.
It's important to remember that seeking an appointment with a veterinary oncologist doesn't mean a commitment to extensive diagnostic and treatment procedures. Your vet oncologist wants the best outcome for your pet and yourself and will discuss all options with you in regards to the tests they recommend, the goals you have for treatment, realistic outcomes, and financial concerns.
If your pet's cancer is untreatable, your veterinary oncology team will be able to offer palliative (end-of-life) resources that can help ensure your cat or dog is as comfortable and pain-free as possible for the remainder of their time with you.
Questions To Ask Your Veterinary Oncologist
When you take your dog or cat to a veterinary oncologist, there are some questions that you should consider asking them, such as:
- What kind of cancer does my pet have?
- What is our treatment goal for my pet?
- What are the side effects associated with the treatment(s)?
- How often does my pet need treatment? How long will treatment work?
- How long do we have to decide on treatment?
- Should I consider end-of-life (palliative) care?
- Should we consider humane euthanasia?
Some other things to keep in mind are realistic treatment outcomes based on your pet's unique case; financial costs; and your pet's quality of life during treatment, palliative care, or during their last loving days with you.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please note that Atlantic Coast New York Veterinary Specialists does not offer oncology services.