Pet Cancer Care
Canine and feline cancer patients have a variety of options for care
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Your dog or cat has been diagnosed with cancer, and you’re not sure how to proceed. Is surgery or chemotherapy the right answer? Or are there other factors involved that could affect the decision you make regarding treatment for your pet?
A pet’s age, our finances and the success rate of treatment options all play into the decisions we make about caring for our pets. The good news is that there are no wrong answers. Whatever decision you make, there are options for care.
Whether you are considering treatment or palliative care for your pet’s cancer, ask the oncologist to lay out the pros and cons. Here are some questions to ask:
- How is this type of cancer treated?
- How long will my pet live with and without treatment?
- How will my pet’s age and current health status affect the success of treatment?
- Will my pet experience any side effects of treatment?
- Can side effects be managed?
- Will a special diet help?
- How much will treatment or palliative care cost?
- Are there any clinical trials that might benefit my pet?
The answers can help you make the best decision for your dog, cat or other pet. Depending on the type of cancer and how aggressively you want to fight it, options include surgery, metronomic therapy — continuous low doses of different anticancer drugs — radiation, and integrative therapies, such as medicinal mushrooms or cold laser. Ensuring that pets are able to breathe comfortably is also important.
Each situation is different, but the most important factor is keeping pets comfortable, says veterinary oncologist Alice Villalobos.
“Even if they have a really nasty cancer, we’re able to sometimes control or slow it down or stabilize it with an anti-angiogenesis protocol,” she says.
Multimodal pain relief is a mainstay of cancer care. Generally, a single medication isn’t enough to address pain in cancer patients. Cancer pain travels along multiple pathways in the body. Using different types of medications that work in different ways helps to make pain control more effective. Dr. Villalobos likes to use what she calls the GAT protocol: gabapentin, amantadine and either tramadol or trazadone. Each works in a different way, and together they manage the different types of pain.
Some dogs with cancer are prescribed steroids such as prednisone or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain. They can benefit from medications such as Pepcid that protect the gastrointestinal tract from ulceration or other damage associated with use of steroids and NSAIDs.
Oxygen therapy can help pets breathe easier. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a dog or cat must spend time in an oxygen cage at the veterinary hospital, which can be expensive. Oxygen generators can be purchased online through outlets such as Craigslist, for instance, and used at home.
Timing of medication is important. Pets on prednisone may experience panting as a side effect, especially at night. Giving the drug in the morning instead of evening can make a difference, Dr. Villalobos says.
Panting can also be a sign of pain. How do you know if your pet is panting because he’s in pain or as a side effect of the drug he’s taking? The answer may depend on the type of cancer your pet has, so it’s important to talk to your veterinarian. For instance, Dr. Villalobos says, lymphoma usually isn’t painful, so in that case, the panting is likely caused by the drug, not the disease.
Most important, keep your pet’s quality of life paramount.
“We really always try to make sure the patient has got more good days than bad days,” Dr. Villalobos says.