“There is no medicine like hope.”
Orison Swett Marden, doctor and author
You love your pet, and you want the best for him/her in every way. When a pet is diagnosed with cancer, the question we hear most often is, “Is there anything we can do?” We are always happy to say, “Yes.”
At VCC, we are continually inspired by the healing powers of our patients. Pets are fighters; they are not statistics. Our patients have shown us time and time again that in every situation, there is cause for hope.
However, cancer does not disappear without intervention. Your pet needs you to take charge of his/her care, and to learn all your options. As cancer specialists, we can help you understand all aspects of your pet’s illness, so you can decide the best way to provide support and help. Each case of cancer is unique, and we tailor each treatment plan to fit the individual needs of the patient and his/her family.
Cancer in Pets
Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of damaged cells. Cells are the basic building blocks of our bodies and normally grow, divide, and die. When a cell is damaged and becomes abnormal, our bodies will recognize the damaged cells and either destroy or control their growth. Sometimes our defenses do not work and the abnormal cells grow uncontrollably resulting in cancer. Luckily, our bodies have many defense strategies to protect us and prevent this from happening.
Cancer in pets often behaves the same way as it does in humans. As in humans, cancer can be caused by damage to DNA due to factors such as radiation, infections, chemicals, or hormones. Exposure to these factors to some extent is unavoidable, but due to age or breed, some pets are more susceptible to cancer than others.
We treat cancer in pets with many of the same therapies and drugs that prove successful in treating cancer in humans, such as: surgery, chemotherapy, cryosurgery, radiation, cancer vaccines, and newer modalities such as protein kinase inhibitors. Unlike humans, pets often do not experience the same negative side effects from cancer treatment, such as hair loss and nausea. Pets often remain happy and upbeat throughout the course of treatment.
Instead of (or in addition to) medical intervention, some pet parents opt for more natural treatments. Through supplements and diet, you may be able to slow the growth of many cancer tumors without drugs or surgeries.
Ten Common Signs of Cancer
It is impossible to know if your pet has cancer without a diagnosis from a trained veterinarian. Cancer symptoms may not indicate actual cancer; any of the signs of cancer below may be the result of common infections or injuries. To properly treat your pet, it is imperative that you seek a medical diagnosis if you suspect that he/she has cancer.
According to the Veterinary Cancer Society the ten common signs of cancer in small animals are:
- Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
- Sores that do not heal
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
- Offensive odor
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
- Persistent lameness or stiffness
- Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating
If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet, we encourage you to bring your pet to a veterinarian for an examination. Various tests such as blood tests, X-rays, ultrasound, and needle or surgical biopsies can be helpful in diagnosing cancer. Your veterinarian can deduce whether the tumor is benign or malignant. If malignant, a tissue sample indicates the type of cancer, its grade (how closely it resembles normal cells), and its stage (how far it has spread). All of these factors contribute to the veterinarian’s prognosis and recommendation for treatment. In some cases more sophisticated tests such as CT, MRI, PET scan are needed.
Our pets are family members, and hearing a cancer diagnosis can feel traumatic and overwhelming. While your pet needs you to stay hopeful and positive, sometimes you may feel just the opposite.
Supporting your pet
Your pet may not know that he/she is sick. However, pets tend to pick up on the mood of their owners. The best thing you can do is appreciate and cherish the time you have with your pet right now, and stay as positive as you can. Following are some suggestions on how to support your pet through this difficult time in his/her life:
Spend time with your pet. If he/she can’t play or participate in usual activities, you can talk to your pet, read aloud, or just spend quiet time appreciating each other.
Pet your pet. Gentle, loving massage will help your pet feel loved, safe and secure. It also helps with circulation and muscle stiffness.
Educate yourself. Talk to your veterinarian about ways you can help your pet feel more comfortable during treatment.
Spoil your pet. This isn’t the time to worry too much if your pet barks at the mailman or wants a hamburger for dinner. If it is safe for your pet, feel free to make life as fun as possible.
Create memories. Maybe you spend the day playing in the sun, or maybe you take your pet to a special place you both love. Regardless of how you choose to honor your pet, your happy memories will stay with you for the rest of your life.