Cancer in a pet is a devastating diagnosis. If you are a pet owner and find yourself receiving this news from your vet, there are 11 key questions you need to ask so you can prepare your pet and yourself for next steps.
1. Does my pet need a biopsy?
Sometimes vets rule out cancer with a quick test called cytology, which helps with early detection and early diagnosis. Negative results from cytology are a relief, but in some pets, cancer appears a few months later. Ask your veterinarian whether a follow-up biopsy is a good idea. There are also pets for which indications of cancer from cytology aren't confirmed by further testing.
2. Are you sure about the diagnosis?
The gold standard for diagnosing cancer is the biopsy. Your vet takes a sample of tissue from a tumor, usually with a needle, and examines it for cancerous cells.
Not all cancers can or should be biopsied. Brain tumors, for example, have a very specific appearance on MRI. Veterinary oncologists won't take a sample of a brain tumor before operating on it. And cancers of the blood are diagnosed by a blood test.
Most of the time, however, a cancer diagnosis isn't 100% certain until a biopsy has been examined in a pathology laboratory. It usually takes several days to get the results.
3. Are there more tests you can do?
Mast cell tumors are the most common cancer in dogs. This kind of canine cancer comes in three stages, Stage I, Stage II, and Stage III. The stage of cancer your dog has tells a lot about the possibilities for beating the disease and the things you need to do to keep your dog comfortable. The most important step in staging cancer is the biopsy, although the vet will also consider other tests and the general state of health of your pet.
4. Does my pet need other tests to determine the extent of the tumor?
Just about every dog or cat diagnosed with cancer needs a chest x-ray to detect the presence of cancer in the lungs. Based on the expected progression of your pet's kind of cancer, an abdominal ultrasound or CT scan may also be advisable.
5. What kinds of treatment options are available?
Most canine and feline cancers are treated with surgical removal of the tumor followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. However, there may be cases in which the cancerous tumor is very clearly defined, and surgery is enough (this is rare), and there may be cases in which there are alternatives to chemotherapy or radiation, usually immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps your immune system fight cancer cells. The Veterinary Cancer Society can also refer you to cancer treatment clinical trials that may help your pet. Other cancers such as leukemia are not treatable with surgical removal but may be treated by other means.
6. What are the best options for my pet?
Maximizing both quality of life and length of life are the primary goals of cancer management/treatment. This requires taking your pet's age and activity level into consideration, as well as the possibilities for helping your pet stay comfortable during their illness. The best options for your pet usually aren't those that would work best for another pet. Ask your vet about ways to keep your dog or cat as active and comfortable as long as possible, within your own limitations of time and money.
7. How will my pet react to chemotherapy?
Some pets sail through chemotherapy, while others deal with varying degrees of nausea and weight loss. Breed makes a difference, as well as your pet's health history and treatment regimen. Generally, chemotherapy is tolerated much better in companion animals than humans.
8. Will my pet lose their fur?
The good news about canine and feline chemotherapy is that most pets don't lose their fur. But if they do, you need to be ready to provide for the warmth and skin care.
9. Do we need to take our pet to a specialist?
Your regular veterinarian will often refer you to surgeons, radiologists, or veterinary oncologists who may be able to give your pet additional help.
10. What would you do if this were your pet?
Just about every pet parent asks this question. Your vet's answer depends on the unique situation of your pet.
11. What's the best diet for supporting my dog’s health during canine cancer?
Most vets aren't trained in cancer nutrition. They are focused on treating the disease rather than supporting recovery and comfort. As a result, most pet parents spend countless hours online looking for the best combinations of nutrients to help the furry members of the family cope with the disease.
Canine Biologics does this work for you. Our team of experts know which nutrients are most important for cancer and have put them together in a three-part nutrition system included human-grade food, supplements and salmon oil. Our proprietary integrated approach to feeding your dog with cancer will help you focus on your pet's quality of life, making sure they get the nutrition they need to remain as active and happy as possible.