By Dr. Alison Book, DACVIM Oncology

Has your dog or cat recently been diagnosed with cancer? I know this news can be shocking, especially if your dog or cat seems otherwise healthy. Often, dogs and cats show no major symptoms, could have normal blood work, and may not even show signs of pain or discomfort.

Dogs and cats often hide symptoms well. It’s part of their inherent survival instincts and in their nature to want everyone around them to be happy , particularly dogs. In some cases it can be surprising because the dog or cat is really young, and cancer may be the last thing you’d expect. But, regardless of whether your dog or cat gave you telltale signs or not, when you find out your dog or cat has cancer, the news can be devastating.

The diagnosis of cancer does not always mean your dog or cat is going to die. Some cancers are curable. Some cancers are manageable for many months, and in some cases, years. The treatments now available for dogs and cats are very similar to their human counterparts. Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, nutritional support, pain management, clinical trials, and therapeutic vaccines are all options for managing cancer in dogs and cats.

Although people assume that cancer will automatically lead to a diminished quality of life, there are constantly new and improved ways to manage a diagnosis of cancer.

First and foremost, get educated.
Learn as much as you can about your dog’s or cat’s diagnosis. Ask questions and seek help from those with expertise and experience. Some trustworthy resources are…

http://www.csuanimalcancercenter.org/about-cancer and http://www.csuanimalcancercenter.org/patient-information

http://www.oncolink.org/types/section.cfm?c=22&s=69

http://www.vsso.org/Cancer_Information_1.html

http://caninecancerawareness.org/cancer-and-dogs

Go see a specialist.

If you were diagnosed with cancer, you would most likely see a specialist. You can do the same thing for your dog and cat. Veterinary specialists are similar to their human counterparts. They are Board-certified practitioners who have completed an internship and residency in their specialized field. They have passed rigorous examinations to achieve Board certification from the ACVIM (American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine). Specialists have a deeper understanding and knowledge of the unusual, the uncommon, or rare diagnoses and treatment of diseases in their area of specialization. A specialist may have equipment, not generally used by your family veterinarian.

What kind of specialist should I take my dog or cat to?

If your dog or cat has cancer, you’ll want to make an appointment to see a veterinary oncologist. A veterinary oncologist has advanced training in the field of cancer diagnosis and therapy. They have a great deal of knowledge and experience in working with dogs and cats with cancer, so they can tell you what to expect and what medicine and other therapies are available to manage your pet’s care. In addition, they are experts at managing hospice care and end-of-life care.

An oncologist has access to the latest technology and treatments. These veterinarians use their education and experience to help guide you through the maze of options. They can help develop a treatment plan and provide you with a great deal of information on your pet’s diagnosis.

How your dog or cat responds to treatment ultimately depends on the type of cancer it has, what other medical problems it might have, and what treatments are available to manage the disease. Age isn’t always a factor when determining how a dog or cat will respond to treatment, unless the patient has age-related problems such as arthritis, kidney disease or heart disease.

We all want to give our dogs and cats the highest quality of life possible. After the shock of a cancer diagnosis wears off, know that there is help and support available to help you make the best decision for you and your best friend.