My pet has cancer. Now what?

First of all, remember that if your cat or dog is diagnosed with cancer, you should not let hope be the first casualty of the disease. Many different types of cancers are found in dogs and cats (and other animals, as well), just as they are in humans. If you would consider treatment for your pet for diseases of the heart, kidneys, liver, or hormones, then you should consider it for cancer.

How to Watch Out for Cancer

You know your pet better than anyone (including your veterinarian). While you groom your dog or cat, make note of any odd bumps or lumps. Draw a simple map of the locations so you can point them out. Since many cancers are internal, be alert to changes in your pet’s behavior, including eating and drinking habits, lameness, or eliminations, as well as general appearance. Also, many cancers may be discovered because of vague symptoms, such as tiredness.

It is very important that ALL masses be examined by your veterinarian. At a minimum, a fine needle aspirate should be performed on any mass found on or below the skin. This is done by using a small, thin needle to gently suction cells from the lump. The collected cells are examined under a microscope by your veterinarian or a pathologist. If cancer is diagnosed, then discussion and treatment planning can begin. If a clear diagnosis is not obtained, a biopsy should be performed. Other, less obvious signs may require more intense diagnostics, such as ultrasounds, x-rays, and blood tests.

Cancer, oh my!

Cancers vary a lot from patient to patient. It is okay to go to the Internet, but remember that some websites are better than others. Your veterinarian may also suggest a specialist. Dr. Janet Peterson, a board-certified veterinary oncologist in Annapolis, Maryland, says, “You need to be your pet’s best advocate, but you need to have the best information to do this.” Board-certified veterinary oncologists are available in many locations across the country.

Making decisions!

Find out if there is more than one option for treating your pet’s cancer. Options may range from palliative (keeping your pet comfortable) to intensive (surgery plus radiation therapy plus chemotherapy or another type of therapy). Treatment decisions are also influenced by your pet’s personality and your personal and family situation. The correct decision is the one that is right for you and your pet, and often may require a second opinion.

For some pet owners, success can be a good quality of life for their pet. Our pets do not worry about the future. Good days are simply good days to them. We want them to be comfortable, to be loved, and to be our companions. Despite a diagnosis of cancer, these goals can often be achieved.

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