When the Diagnosis is Cancer:
We at STVS understand it is difficult to hear the news that your pet has cancer. Our aim is to treat you and your pet with compassion and empathy during this time and provide the best medical care available for our patients. Dr. Jennifer Wiley is our Board Certified Veterinary Oncologist and has devoted her life to helping families and pets through this process. Please read Dr. Wiley’s touching personal bio here. Cancer is an intimate part of Dr. Wiley’s personal and professional life, and this allows a deep appreciation for both the medical and emotional components of working with cancer patients and their owners. She understands that this time can bring anxiety and fear to many families, and she will spend the necessary time with you to discuss your pet’s individual cancer, treatment options, quality of life, and prognosis. Rest assured you and your pet are in the best hands.
Advancements in veterinary diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventative medicine have resulted in our pets living richer, longer lives. Unfortunately, cancer risk increases with longevity of life. Cancer is a growing challenge to pets, their families,and their veterinarians.Being able to cope with the fact that your pet has cancer can be tough, but it is important to be well informed. Cancer is the number one natural cause of death in older cats and dogs. Unfortunately, cancer can strike at any age though. It accounts for nearly 50% of pet deaths each year. Some cancers can be treated effectively, while others are treated with palliative care. Palliative therapy involves various treatment modalities that attempt to reduce the cancer, slow the cancer’s progression, and maintain a good quality of life for the patient as long as possible. There are many different types of cancers, just like in humans. Each of these types of cancers have different behaviors, various locations, different routes of spreading (“metastasis”), require different types of therapy, and have quite variable outcomes. Your veterinary oncologist helps to educate you on this information for your pet’s individual type of cancer. Veterinary Oncologists diagnose and treat pet cancers. The goal of the Oncology team is to provide the patient with optimal treatments available while continuing the best quality of life for as long as possible. Advanced diagnostic testing for cancer, including cytology, x-rays, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, and biopsy procedures can be offered to characterize the tumors and evaluate for evidence of spread of the cancer (metastasis). Depending on the cancer type, surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and other types of treatment may be recommended to eliminate or slow the progression of the cancer. Many of the same types of treatments for cancer in people are now used in veterinary patients. You and your veterinary oncologist will work together to develop a plan for your pet.
- Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
- Sores that do not heal
- Weight Loss
- Loss of Appetite
- Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
- Offensive odor
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
- Persistent lameness or stiffness
- Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecating
Chemotherapy in veterinary medicine is different than chemotherapy in people. Although side effects are still possible, the goal of veterinary oncology is to minimize the side effect of the chemotherapy so that the treatments are effective and the patient’s quality of life remains good and as normal as possible. The majority of patients tolerate the treatments well, with approximately 10-30% having some side effects that are often temporary and easily managed or prevented. Side effects may include mild GI upset (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, inappetance, lethargy), some suppression of the immune system (low white blood cell counts), and a few other rare side effects that are individual to the chemotherapy drug (ie. liver or kidney damage). Hair loss is noted only in dog breeds that grow their hair (ie. Poodles, terriers), although some dogs and cats can lose some whiskers. The side effects are monitored closely and the treatment plan is altered to prevent any serious complications. There are many different types of chemotherapy with the majority given as out-patient treatments and a few are given in the hospital. Many treatments are given intravenously, although there are also several chemotherapy agents that may be given orally.
About end of life care:
Cancer treatment is not only focused on giving therapy to slow or stop the cancer, but also aims at supporting patients when treatments are not effective. At STVS, we discuss the patient’s quality of life throughout the treatment process. We provide pain control and comfort measures for our terminally ill patients, and discuss how to determine the appropriate time for humane euthanasia. We provide compassion during the final moments with your pet and provide a peaceful and painless passing. Some people wish to be present during this process and others wish to say goodbye beforehand. There are no wrong choices for this sensitive period and we are here to make the experience as peaceful as possible.
· Write down questions you may have before each visit to STVS. Take notes if you would like during your visit about treatment options.
· Seek support. Bring a friend or spouse with you to your appointment if you would like.
· Include the whole family. All discussions about your pet should include all of those who love your pet. Your pet will need the support of the entire family during this process.
· Ask for printed materials and information. Obtain resources and research, research, research. Gaining knowledge helps to ease fear and anxiety.
· Understand there are no incorrect decisions. STVS will fully support any family¹s decision in this process. There are no wrong answers. Give us a chance to work with you the best way possible and rest assured that you will never be pressured to make a certain decision.