What is a veterinary oncologist and when should I see one?

A veterinary oncologist is a veterinarian that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in pets. She or he has specific knowledge, expertise, and equipment that will aid in maximizing the quality and quantity of your pet’s life.

A veterinary oncologist has undergone an additional 3-4 years of training in cancer medicine after attaining their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. This training is overseen by an organization called the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM). They have demonstrated their knowledge and qualification in the field of cancer medicine by:

  • Passing a challenging examination
  • Publishing research that has contributed to the knowledge of cancer in pets

You can identify someone who is board-certified in veterinary oncology by the letters DACVIM (Oncology) after his or her name. The “D” stands for Diplomate. You can also find a list of board-certified veterinary oncologists at www.ACVIM.org.

If your pet has been diagnosed with a type of cancer or your primary care veterinarian is highly suspicious of cancer, it is always a good idea to consult with a veterinary oncologist. Early consultation with a pet cancer specialist will often save you money in the long run and increase your chances of a good treatment outcome. She or he will help you:

  • Understand the big picture about your pet’s diagnosis
  • Avoid unnecessary or repeated diagnostic tests
  • Prioritize diagnostic and treatment options so you can use financial resources wisely
  • Teach you about your pet’s prognosis so you can set realistic goals
  • Develop an appropriate treatment plan and coordinate efforts of your primary care veterinarian and other specialists such as surgeons and/or radiation oncologists.

Consulting a veterinary oncologist does not mean you are committing yourself to treating your pet with cancer. Veterinary oncologists are skilled at listening to your goals in order to help you make the best decision for your particular situation. If treatment is desired, your veterinary oncologist is able to help assure that chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, and/or immunotherapy are utilized in the safest and most beneficial way to help your pet. If specific treatment is not desired, your veterinary oncologist can help you to keep your pet comfortable and prepare for the future.