Cancer. It’s the word that no pet owner ever wants to hear, but unfortunately, many of us will hear it at least once during our pet’s lifetime. When you get a cancer diagnosis for your pet, you may feel lost or confused, uncertain of your next steps. Just in time for Canine Cancer Awareness Month, this article will help you navigate the cancer journey with your dog, so you can be sure you’re doing all the right things to help your dog maintain good quality of life.
Understand That You’re Not Alone.
Getting a cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. You may feel like you don’t know where to turn.
Know that you are not alone. Cancer is unfortunately common in dogs. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, approximately 1 in 4 dogs will develop cancer at some stage in their life, and over half of dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer. While it can be devastating to hear that your best friend has cancer, know that many others have gone through this with their best friends, too. Whatever happens, there is help and support available for you and your dog.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or uncertain, there are support groups that can help. Pet cancer support groups are available on Facebook or through certain pet cancer organizations. Pet loss support hotlines also provide grief support as you grieve the loss of the future you pictured with your beloved pet. Your veterinarian may also be able to guide you to local support groups available in your area.
Educate Yourself About Cancer in Dogs
If your dog has been diagnosed with cancer, one of the best things you can do to help both you and your dog is to research the type of cancer your dog has and learn about the treatment options available. Knowing more about your dog’s cancer can help you make informed decisions about your pet’s care. Whether you decide to pursue chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, or you prefer a palliative care approach, knowing the treatment options available to your pet and their associated costs, risks, and benefits can help you make the best decisions for you and your dog’s needs.
If you’re unsure where to begin, speak to your veterinarian or ask for a referral to a veterinary oncologist. A veterinary oncologist is a veterinarian who has completed years of additional training in the field of cancer and who specializes in treating pets with cancer. He or she can give you more information on your dog’s condition, including the prognosis, treatment options, and survival times. A veterinary oncologist is your best resource for information about cancer in dogs, even if you decide not to pursue advanced treatment such as chemotherapy.
Understand the Effects of Cancer Testing and Treatment on Your Dog
Many people are all too familiar with the effects of cancer treatment on humans: the hair loss, the nausea, the weakness, and other detrimental side effects that treatments like chemotherapy can bring. The good news is that in pets, we often do not see this level of discomfort with cancer treatment. This is because cancer treatment in pets uses lower doses of chemotherapy and radiation than those used in humans, with a focus on quality of life rather than just quantity of life. Pets often tolerate cancer treatments quite well. For pets that do experience side effects from cancer treatments, medications may be prescribed to manage side effects and treatment dosages may be adjusted to reduce negative side effects. Most importantly, treatment can be discontinued at any time if your pet is not tolerating the process well.
If you do decide to pursue cancer treatment, you may need a few supplies to help care for your pet during this process. Comfortable bedding is a must for the pet recovering from cancer treatment. Slings or harnesses may be necessary if your pet has mobility issues due to cancer or cancer treatment. A healthy, highly palatable, and easily digestible diet is particularly important to support your pet’s immune function. And, of course, your pet should always have ready access to clean, fresh water.
Research Cost of Treatment and Assistance Options
Treatment for cancer can be expensive. The type of treatment your pet needs will vary depending on the type and location of your dog’s cancer, as well as your dog’s overall health. Treatment may include chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation therapy. Often these treatments also require diagnostic procedures such a blood work, biopsies, and diagnostic imaging before and after treatment to monitor your dog’s response to treatment. These costs can add up quickly, making cancer treatment an expensive process.
Most of us would spare no expense where our pets are concerned. But what if you simply cannot afford the cost of diagnostics and cancer treatment for your dog? Fortunately, you have some options to finance your dog’s cancer care.
If you have pet insurance, contact your insurance carrier to see if your dog’s cancer treatment is covered by insurance. In many cases, insurance will cover a portion of your dog’s cancer treatment, depending on the type of plan you have, as long as your dog’s cancer is not considered a pre-existing condition.
You can also consider applying for a medical credit card such as CareCredit, which often offers promotional financing that allows you to pay off your bill over time. While this does not reduce the cost of cancer treatment, it can make the cost more manageable by giving you more flexibility with the timing of payment.
Crowdfunding options such as GoFundMe are another way to finance your dog’s cancer treatment. Your friends and family may be willing to help pay for your dog’s cancer treatment, particularly when they read your dog’s story.
Your local animal shelters and rescues may also offer some funding options or grants that you can use to help pay for your dog’s treatments. Ask your veterinary team about options available in your area.
Enjoy Spending Time With Your Dog
Most importantly, remember to make the most of the time you have with your dog.
Getting a cancer diagnosis can be devastating, but it can also reinforce the bond that you have with your dog. To make the most of the time with your dog, consider making a list of your dog’s favorite foods and activities to enjoy together. This may include things like playing games of fetch, taking walks in the park, and eating cheeseburgers. Set aside some extra time to enjoy these special activities together. This may include your family and friends – and your dog’s four-legged friends, too – or just some quiet time shared between the two of you. However you choose to enjoy this time with your dog, be sure to take plenty of pictures. You will treasure them in the future. Remember, your dog doesn’t know that they have cancer. Your pet still looks forward to spending time having fun with his favorite human: you! Even if your dog isn’t feeling well, it’s still important for you to spend time together. The time you spend together strengthens your bond and is beneficial for both you and your pet, so you can give your pet the best quality of life possible.