1 in every 4 dogs and 1 in every 5 cats will develop cancer in their lifetimes. That is a sobering number of pets diagnosed each year. November is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month, and as a pet parent of a dog who has beat cancer, I’m here to tell you that cancer isn’t a death sentence.
Medical advancements and a better understanding of how cancer works has led to a dramatic increase in the lifespan of both people and pets diagnosed with cancer.
First, let me tell you that I know how devastating it can be to receive a cancer diagnosis for your beloved pet. I’ve been there. If you’re facing a recent diagnosis, start your research and healing process here.
Now that you’ve had a little time to process the diagnosis, educate yourself and learn about the options that you have options available to you. This may include a consultation with a veterinary oncologist. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion, too. After all, you are your pet’s best advocate.
Many times, the most effective and least cost prohibitive solution is surgery. To simply (if operable) remove the foreign mass from your pet’s body with clean enough margins (area around the tumor removed in an effort to remove all microscopic cancer cells from the body) may be the best and most simple solution.
In Barret’s case, this meant we had to amputate his leg. “Whoa, wait a minute, isn’t that a little dramatic?” you might be saying to yourself. That was my initial reaction too. That was until I found a wonderful support group of other Tripawds who were able to show me that dogs and cats do not live in the past like humans do. They honestly get around just fine with 3 legs. For Barret, this “drastic” measure was the difference between a lifetime of palliative surgeries to only remove the cancerous growth or waiting for the growth to rupture and become infected. If you’re facing the decision to amputate, I strongly encourage you to read my article here then hop on over to Tripawds and post your story in the forums.
Chemotherapy and Radiation, Including Metronomic Chemotherapy
The type of cancer that Barret had wasn’t generally responsive to chemotherapy or radiation, so we didn’t have that as a viable option. However I have known many dogs that have done chemotherapy and have not suffered the devastating side effects we generally associate with the drug. Modern science has become much more accurate in providing correct dosages and alleviating side effects.
Another type of chemotherapy has been recently introduced called Metronomic Chemotherapy. In layman’s terms it is a very low dose of chemotherapy given orally at home on a daily basis in an effort to shrink or stop further growth by cancerous cells. It is generally less costly than a few rounds of IV chemotherapy. If Barret’s tumor were to recur, this is the next option that we’d pursue.
I think all pet lovers would agree that the main important factor is that your pets’ quality of life remains positive. They can still enjoy food, playing, sleeping in the sunshine, or whatever it was that they enjoyed here on earth. What your pets’ quality of life standard might be will differ from another’s, so it is important to determine ahead of time how to measure your pet’s quality of life.
10 Early Warning Signs To Watch For
The same as in humans, early detection is the key to long term survival rates. The earlier a condition is found, the more options there may be available for treatment. Mark your calendar to do a monthly at-home quick check of your pets and look for the following changes:
- Swollen lymph nodes – lymph nodes are located under the jaw or behind the knee
- Lumps/bumps, especially ones that appear to be growing or changing
- Swollen belly (technical term “abdominal distension”)
- Unexpected or unexplained weight loss
- Chronic vomiting/diarrhea
- Unexplained bleeding
- Cough (many types of canine coughs exists, any coughing should be checked out by your veterinarian)
- Lameness or refusal to put weight on a limb
- Straining to urinate, frequent urination, blood in the urine
- Unexplained oral odors – no one’s dog has the greatest breath, but some oral or stomach cancers can cause a change in your dog or cats’ breath.