Your Pet Has Cancer...Now What?

It’s a phrase dreaded by pet owners and veterinary professionals alike: “Your pet has cancer.”

When a beloved dog or cat is diagnosed with “the big C,” it can leave owners feeling overwhelmed by the road ahead. These 10 tips can help you make the best of an uncertain and difficult time and navigate the next steps of your pet’s diagnosis and treatment with confidence.

 

1. Remember You Are Not Alone

While cancer is certainly a devastating diagnosis for a pet owner, it is not an uncommon one. Advances in veterinary care mean pets are living longer than ever before; however, longer life expectancies also mean cancer is becoming more prevalent in the pet population. In fact, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), approximately one in four dogs will develop cancer during their lifetime.

 

2. Know What to Expect

A cancer diagnosis can be scary, particularly if it is your first experience caring for a pet with a serious illness. Knowing what’s ahead can eliminate the fear of the unknown and ensure you are prepared for each step in your pet’s treatment plan.

Once your pet’s diagnosis has been confirmed (typically with lab tests, such as a fine needle aspiration or biopsy, or diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays or an ultrasound), we'll send your case to a consulting veterinary oncologist*, who will determine the stage of your pet’s cancer and whether it has spread throughout the body. This may require additional testing and will be necessary to determine the course of treatment. Once confirmation and staging is complete, your veterinarian will work with you to select the best treatment plan for your pet.

*We don't have a veterinary oncologist on staff, but we do have a consulting, board-certified oncologist who assesses each case and recommends the best treatments for each pet. Most care is then handled directly by your regular veterinarian here at MSAH and our veterinary oncology technician in coordination with the oncologist.

Tempted to seek answers online? Call your vet instead.

3. Don’t Ask Dr. Google

When your pet is diagnosed with cancer, you want answers immediately—but as tempting as it may sound, consulting the internet for advice on your pet’s heath is simply not in your (or your pet’s) best interest.

Ask anyone who has typed headache symptoms into a search engine to discover they suddenly have a life-threatening illness. More often than not, seeking solutions online uncovers inaccurate and irrelevant information that can just make anxiety about your pet’s diagnosis worse. If you have specific questions or concerns, contact your veterinarian instead.

 

4. Make the Most of Your Vet Visit

For some owners, navigating a pet’s cancer diagnosis can be a confusing and distressing experience. As you wade through the many emotions and logistics of treatment, you will likely have many questions—but you may not remember them all during the veterinary visit.

Write down any questions as they come to you and bring a list to your pet’s appointment. This will help ensure you and your veterinarian cover your concerns thoroughly. You may also want to consider bringing someone with you to the appointment who can ask additional questions, help you retain important information, and act as an advocate on your pet’s behalf.

 

5. Be Patient

Cancer treatment is a thorough and ongoing process. There are many steps involved in successfully diagnosing, treating, and managing this disease, which means many appointments, tests, and procedures—and unfortunately, lots of waiting. It can be frustrating, but remember that it may take time to see a specialist (if necessary), schedule a surgery, or receive lab results. In the meantime, ask your veterinarian how to best care for your pet at home and be sure to reach out with any questions or concerns.

 

6. Know Your Options

Cancer treatment options vary greatly, from surgery to chemotherapy and radiation to palliative care, and depend on a number of factors, including your pet’s age and quality of life, as well as the cancer type, stage, grade, and location.

While time is of the essence with many cancers, it is important to take the time to gather as much information as possible through lab tests and diagnostic imaging and consider it carefully before making a decision on how to proceed. Your veterinary team can help you make an informed decision by discussing each option in detail and helping you plan the best course of action for your pet and your family.

 

7. Consider Cost

As with most major illnesses and conditions, cost is important to consider before pursuing treatment. While there are many factors that can affect the total cost of cancer treatment, your veterinarian may be able to give you an idea of how much you can expect to pay for certain tests and procedures. You can also ask your veterinarian about financing options, like CareCredit.

Many pet insurance providers will cover cancer treatment; however, coverage is limited by pre-existing conditions, so it may not be helpful if your coverage started after your pet’s symptoms began. If you already have insurance, make sure you are familiar with your policy’s coverage and contact your provider with any questions.

 

8. Stay Organized

When your pet has cancer, it's not uncommon for your veterinary team to grow. In addition to your primary veterinarian, you may have appointments with other doctors, including oncologists, surgeons, and radiologists. Be sure to keep a list of all members of your pet’s cancer team and ensure pertinent information is shared with each of them. If your pet's course of treatment takes you to another veterinary hospital, be sure to bring all necessary medical records, lab work, and diagnostic imaging studies to each appointment or have them sent over from your primary veterinary hospital beforehand.

 

Keeping a normal routine can make the challenges of treatment easier on both of you.9. Stick to a Routine

One of the most important things to remember about your pet’s cancer diagnosis is that s/he doesn’t know about it. Pets don't realize they have cancer, but they can and do pick up on their owners’ feelings. It is important to check your emotions at the door and keep your pet’s life as normal as possible by sticking to his usual routine.

Remember, cancer is not necessarily a death sentence—and in fact, many pets can thrive with proper treatment and care—so don’t forget to continue to enjoy life with your pet during this time.

 

10. Ask for Help

We could all use a helping hand now and then. If you’re having a hard time coping with your pet’s cancer diagnosis, reach out to your veterinarian for additional resources and support.

 

Has your pet been diagnosed with cancer? We’re here to help! Reach out to us anytime or schedule an appointment.

 

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