Pet Cancer Awareness Month: Clinical Signs, A Hopeful Perspective from Veterinary Oncologists, and Quality of Life
Cancer. The Big C. The Crab. Regardless of the referential term, the suspected or confirmed diagnosis is life altering for pets and their human owners. The daily routines we share with our pets take on new meaning as the question, "How much time do we have left?" continuously lingers. Speculation regarding the perceived cost, finances, and time involved in treating a pet’s cancer carries additional weight on our already stressed psyche.
For people, the cancer diagnosis causes a mixed bag of emotions, including fear, regret, depression, determination and more. This emotional roller coaster isn’t necessarily experienced by pets, as they may be blissfully unaware of the existence of their disease. Unlike people, pets are also blind to the logistical intricacies, ("How much time will I lose from my ball squeaking duties?") the societal implications ("What will my friends at the dog park think?"), and financial strains ("Let’s fund-raise with a home-prepared dog treat bake sale!") of their cancer treatment.
The good news is that due to the numerous therapeutic options available today, pets overcoming cancer and surviving longer. Cancer treatment has evolved to the degree that your pet’s condition may be resolved or well managed with surgery, radiation, medication, or other remedies. As a holistic veterinarian, the "other remedies" are where I focus my energies when consulting on nutritionally bio-available whole food diets and treats, prescribing immune system enhancing supplements and stagnation clearing Chinese herbs, and relieving pain through acupressure and acupuncture.
Although animals and humans share some of the same cancer diagnoses, our pets cannot directly verbalize their health concerns. As the primary guardians of our pets‘ health, we must recognize clinical signs of illness and immediately pursue veterinary evaluation.
1. Persistent change in appetite and/or water intake
2. A lump that is enlarging, changing, or waxing and waning in size
3. Progressive weight loss or weight gain
4. Non-healing sore or infection, such as persistent nail bed infection
5. Abnormal odor
6. Persistent or recurring lameness
7. Chronic vomiting or diarrhea
8. Persistent or recurring cough
9. Unexplained bleeding or discharge
10. Difficulty swallowing, breathing, urinating, or defecating
Through my work with VCG oncologists, I have learned so much about the complicated nature of veterinary cancer care. Besides patient treatment, VCG veterinarians have the additional responsibility of navigating the turbulent emotions and financial capabilities of the pet-loving family. Having witnessed the dedication to their craft and to their clients on an ongoing basis, I am giving the VCG oncologists the opportunity to share their views on the current state of cancer treatment for pets:
Mona Rosenberg DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (Oncology), owner, CEO, and Chief of Staff of VCG
"When treating cancer, there is hope for your pet. Pursuing a consultation with a board certified veterinary oncologist will provide you with perspective on the best options available."
Mary Davis, DVM (Practice Limited to Oncology)
"Veterinary oncology is moving in some exciting new directions. With new advances in treatment options, pets are living longer with a better quality of life while receiving treatments."
Jared Lyons DVM, Diplomate ACVR (Radiation Oncology)
"Cancer is not a death sentence. With the variety of therapies available to pet owners today, we are able to overcome obstacles that were previously insurmountable."<
Brigitte Tam-Coleman, DVM (Practice Limited to Oncology)
"There are options for treatment and maintaining patient comfort even when chemotherapy or radiation are not pursued."
Avanelle Turner, DVM Diplomate ACVIM (Oncology)
"Many different types of cancers are similar to chronic diseases. Like liver, kidney, or heart disease, we manage these conditions (versus curing them), while still providing a good quality of life."
As cliche as it sounds, projecting positivity and embracing the opportunity to enjoy every moment with your pet is good for everyone involved in the disease management process. With the guidance of a support system (veterinarians, family, friends, etc.), pet caretakers must face companion animal illness with an educated sense of realism as to the possible outcomes.
Even if an absolute cure cannot be achieved, we owe it to our animal companions to provide the best quality of life possible (see Quality of Life Scale). Providing the best care for a severely ill pet may even mean electively discontinuing treatment and pursuing euthanasia. Regardless of the presence of cancer, ending a pet’s life is an inevitable decision for which we must be prepared.