Good pet parents regularly monitor their pet's health, keep vaccinations current and make yearly visits to the veterinarian. With even the best care, however, there are times that your vet may relay a very difficult diagnosis: "your pet has cancer." Although these words may be scary to hear at first, there are many treatments available, and veterinary oncology has come a long way in the last decade. It's important for pet parents to be informed and stay optimistic when dealing with any pet illness, especially cancer.
What to Watch Out For
Although some behaviors could be related to any number of illnesses, there are a few health issues that could be a warning sign of cancer and should trigger an immediate visit to the vet. Reader's Digest lists the following symptoms of cancer in dogs and cats:
- Weight loss: Although some dogs and cats may continue to have a normal appetite, rapid weight loss could be a sign of a gastrointestinal tumor. Sudden weight gain could also be a warning sign.
- Skin changes: Lumps and bumps under or on top of your pet's skin have the potential to be cancerous or benign. Only your vet can be sure by taking a sample from the area.
- Changes in bathroom habits: If you notice changes in your dog or cat's bowel movements, or blood in the urine or stools, you should take a sample, and your pet, to the vet to be checked.
- Collapsing: Extreme lethargy or collapsing could be a signal of a tumor in the spleen or heart, and may require an emergency visit to the vet.
- Seizures: Older pets are more susceptible to getting brain tumors, and seizures are a sign that they may have cancer in the brain. Your vet will need to do additional tests to be sure.
Both cats and dogs can get cancer, and like humans, it may be localized or spread throughout the body. Once a vet confirms the type of cancer your dog or cat has and the severity, different forms of treatment are available, explains the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas.
What to Ask Your Vet
A million questions may come to mind about a pet's cancer, and all of these questions are important to ask your vet when you get the initial news that your pet is sick. Rely on your vet's honesty and professional opinion when making decisions on pet's cancer treatment. Work together with your vet to determine a plan that you both agree will be best for you and your pet. Here are three questions you should consider asking:
- What is the actual prognosis for MY pet? A pet's baseline health plays a big role in how the disease will progress, so it's important to hear directly from your vet what the prognosis means for your pet.
- What treatments are available? Be sure to discuss treatments that are available in-office, as well as at veterinary oncology institutions that may offer specialized services for your pet's specific type of cancer. You can also discuss the option of alternative and holistic treatments and their effectiveness on the type of pet cancer you are dealing with.
- What can my dog or cat be given to alleviate pain? Some vets may prescribe painkillers or perform surgery to alleviate pain. Just be sure to discuss the pros and cons of all your options.
What to Expect During Treatment
Every pet will react to treatment differently; however, knowing a little about the possible behaviors and side effects of cancer in your pet can help ease your concerns and allow you to better support your pet through the treatment process.
The first thing to do is be very aware of all your pet's behaviors. Some furry cancer patients will have good and not-so-good days, and others may want to lie around quietly for weeks. If you have other pets in the house, watch to see if your cat or dog with cancer prefers to be alone or with other pets. You will also need to learn the signs your pet will give when he is in pain. From there, decide if you need to administer pain medicine or just help him get more comfortable by changing his sleeping arrangements. Never give your pet over-the-counter human medication for pain as it can make things worse. Your vet will prescribe you any medication that is specific for your cat or dog's pain, so make sure to follow their instructions to the T.
Through careful monitoring, you may discover that you need to adjust your feeding schedule, amount or type of food. Keeping your pet comfortable and well-nourished is crucial during the treatment stage. Your vet is the expert on the type of nutrition your pet needs, so always consult them before making dog or cat food changes.
Your vet may also ask you to keep a care journal. This will allow your pet's care team to monitor the amount and frequency of the medications you are giving your pet. This is also a helpful way to keep track of your pet's physical and behavioral changes. Putting all medications and the care journal in one location helps keep things organized and on track. This is also helpful if multiple people in your home are helping to care for your furry friend.
A Ray of Sunshine
Most cancers in pets are caused due to genetic mutations and often can't be prevented, so never feel guilty if your pet is diagnosed with cancer. Instead, try to smile and be upbeat around your pet. Providing your pet with a comfortable lap to rest his head or sweet-talking while petting can go a long way in helping your pet through any illness. Cancer in dogs or cats can be difficult for both the patient and the caregiver, but staying optimistic can go a long way for everyone feel better.
Chrissie Klinger is a pet parent that enjoys sharing her home with her furkids, two of her own children and her husband. Chrissie enjoys spending time with all her family members when she is not teaching, writing or blogging. She strives to write articles that help pet owners live a more active and meaningful life with their pets.