November is Pet Cancer Awareness Month, a fitting time to bring up a scary topic. In a multi-post series dedicated to cancer, we’ll talk about what cancer is, how it is treated and the most common types of pet cancer.
Getting a diagnosis of cancer in your dog or cat can be overwhelming. Once you’ve had time to process the diagnosis, you’ll probably have many questions, such as:
- What is cancer?
- How did my pet get cancer?
- Is my pet going to die?
- What kind of treatment will be needed?
- Is my pet in pain?
- What could I have done to prevent this?
Taking the first step
Once the initial diagnosis has been made, slow down, take a deep breath and schedule a follow-up consultation with your veterinarian. Having made the diagnosis, your veterinarian should be willing to sit down with you and answer every one of your questions, or refer you to a veterinary oncologist if needed.
What is cancer?
Strictly speaking, cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells. These cells will invade surrounding tissues and spread to other areas of the body. Cancer can be localized, as is the case with a solitary tumor, or generalized, meaning that it is spread throughout the body.
How did my pet get cancer?
There is no easy answer to this. Cancer has many causes: some hereditary, some environmental and some that we just don’t know about. In fact, some dogs are prone to cancer just because of their breed. For instance, Boxers have a higher-than-average rate of mast cell tumors, while Greyhounds are more susceptible to bone cancer.
Is my pet going to die?
Unfortunately, some types of cancer are more life-threatening than others. While some cancers are curable, others are more likely to be terminal, meaning there is no current known way to cure them. Have a frank discussion with your vet regarding your pet’s long-term prognosis before making any decisions.
What kind of treatment will be needed?
Again, this is largely dependent on the type of cancer. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are all options for the treatment of cancer (and can all be covered by your Petplan pet insurance policy), though not all types of cancers will need all treatment modalities. Your veterinarian should thoroughly explain the treatment options for your pet. Keep in mind that every veterinarian is different and has different opinions about cancer treatments. If you feel that your goals and your vet’s goals are different, it’s a good idea to get a second opinion. You are your pet’s voice and advocate, an important role that you can learn more about in this interview with Dr. Nancy Kay from fetch! magazine.
Is my pet in pain?
Pain levels are sometimes difficult to determine in pets. Some cancers are known to be more painful than others, and your veterinarian should be able to help you assess your pet’s pain and treat it properly. Watch for signs of pain, including withdrawing from family activities, going off food, not being able to settle and increased panting.
What could I have done to prevent this?
Probably nothing. Cancer is multi-factorial in pets, meaning that there is not one specific cause. You love your pet, and might be looking for something or someone to blame, but the sad truth is that most of the time, cancer just happens. From here out, focus on the future – on helping your best friend battle the Big C (if it is a treatable cancer and you decide that is the road you want to take), on keeping your pet comfortable and on having great times with your pet every day, as long as you can!