Coping With Cancer

Cancer is extremely common in pets. While a diagnosis of cancer in a beloved pet can be devastating, it is important for you to realize that many forms of cancer can be successfully treated or managed to provide your pet with an excellent quality of life. It is also important to realize that in pets, just as in people, some types of cancer are now viewed as a chronic, rather than as a terminal, disease. The best way to fight cancer is to detect it early and begin treatment promptly.

Signs of Cancer

To detect cancer at its earliest, be sure to bring your pet in for regular veterinary examinations. Animal Hospital of North Asheville recommends at least one comprehensive physical for your pet every year. Just as you have an annual exam, dogs and cats need at least one comprehensive exam every year because a year to their body is like seven years to our bodies.  A comprehensive exam covers all aspects of your pet’s health and preventative care, whereas a problem or illness visit is focused on what is wrong.   Between examinations, monitor your pet for signs of cancer, and schedule an appointment for your pet if any of the following appear:

  • Abnormal lumps, bumps, or swellings anywhere on the body
  • Sores or lesions that do not heal
  • Unexplained weight loss or changes in appetite
  • Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
  • Unpleasant odor
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Persistent lameness
  • Drooling or any signs of mouth discomfort or ordor
  • Any lump, swelling or sore in the mouth

Diagnosing Cancer

If cancer is suspected, it is very important for you and your veterinarian at Animal Hospital of North Asheville to have as much information as possible when making serious decisions regarding treatment. An accurate diagnosis is essential. Your veterinarian will also want to correctly stage your pet’s cancer. This will help your pet’s doctor to determine how advanced the cancer is and what the projected success rates of various possible treatments might be. As a result, your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic procedures such as laboratory tests, biopsies, x-rays, ultrasound studies, and even exploratory surgery. At Animal Hospital of North Asheville, we have our own internal medicine specialist and also have the ability to immediately consult with veterinary oncologists around the world by telemedicine.

Treating Cancer

The goal of cancer treatment in pets is to provide your pet with the highest quality of life for as long as possible. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation are generally tolerated extremely well by canine and feline patients. When side effects occur, your pet’s doctor will prescribe anti-nausea and pain medications, as needed, as well as nutritional support to keep your pet comfortable during treatment.

In some cases, the cancer may be so advanced that your veterinarian may recommend palliative care only. This means that your pet’s veterinary team will seek to keep your pet as comfortable as possible for as long as possible without pursuing more aggressive treatment options. The primary goal of cancer care in pets is always to maintain the best quality of life possible for your pet.  We understand that all your pet really cares about is being with you and the people he or she loves, so long hospitalizations and uncomfortable procedures may not be in your pet’s best interest when  cancer is advanced.

What You Can Do to Help Your Pet Cope

Fortunately, many of the below measures are not needed until the later stages of cancer when the patient needs palliative care.  Patients undergoing chemotherapy usually do not suffer any adverse effects.

  • Be your pet’s advocate. Watch your pet closely for signs that he or she is either doing well or experiencing pain or discomfort, and keep us informed.
  • Keep all scheduled veterinary appointments, and stay in contact with your veterinary team. We are here to help you!
  • Give prescribed medications without fail and be sure to contact us for refills in a timely manner.
  • Your pet’s appetite be decreased and may need to be tempted.  He or she may want to be hand fed. Some cats may just need you to stroke them to encourage eating. We will make suggestions of foods that while tasty for pets, are also nutritious and less likely to upset the stomach. Your pet may benefit from lots of small meals and snacks.
  • Have fresh water close at all times and encourage your pet to drink by actually offering the bowl and holding it while they drink.
  • Your pet may need a warmer or cooler environment than normal. You will be the best judge of whether your pet needs an extra blanket or whether he or she is suffering from the heat in the summer.
  • Be considerate of your pet.  He or she may not feel up to activities and may need to sleep more.  Protect your pet from other pets who may want to play and boisterous children who don’t understand how their actions can cause discomfort.
  • Your pet may need to urinate and defecate more often because of cancer treatment, so make your pet’s “bathroom” as accessible as possible.
  • Above all, enjoy your time with your pet! Spend lots of time showing them how much you love them. Being with you is what keeps your pet’s spirit up!