Cancer Treatment for Your Pet or Companion Animal

A cancer diagnosis may be an unfortunate aspect of living with pets or companion animals that many of us have to face, especially as our cats and dogs get on in years. And, while many dog and cat cancers are benign or require minimal treatment, many can be very invasive and ultimately terminal.

A cancer diagnosis used to be equivocal with a death sentence for many pets as little as a decade or two ago. Thankfully, the field of veterinary oncology has come a long way over those last couple of decades.

Where once the only humane course of action for many cancer diagnoses was euthanasia, now veterinary oncologists are able to treat cancer and send it into full remission. And, if full remission isn’t possible, many other treatments that provide for a longer life and good quality of life exist.

oncology for pets cancer treatment

Veterinary Oncology Training and Specialization

Veterinary oncologists, like many other types of veterinary specialists, undergo additional training in the field of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis in the years following their completion of veterinary school.

While all veterinary oncologists are not board certified, board certification is definitely one criterion to fully examine before selecting an oncologist for your pet. Certification requires a lengthy internship after graduation, along with additional testing and publishing requirements.

Cancer Diagnosis in Your Companion Animal

Part of a veterinary oncologist’s job is to take up where you regular vet leaves off in terms of completing an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s cancer, identifying the cancer’s aggressiveness and stage, and putting together an appropriate treatment plan that takes into consideration all of the factors above, as well as your pet’s age and general health.

Sometimes arriving at a definitive diagnosis can be challenging and may require several rounds of tests and scans. Many other conditions have symptoms similar to cancer, and must first be ruled out before a complete diagnosis is possible.

Cancer Treatments for Your Cat or Dog

Depending on the type, stage, and aggressiveness of the particular cancer, a veterinary oncologist will recommend various forms of treatment for your pet. Some cancers only require a surgery to take care of them, calling for the services of a veterinary surgical oncologist.

Most often though, surgery will need to be followed by other therapies that could include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and others. During the entire treatment process, your veterinary oncologist will supervise and adjust the treatment regime. The oncologist will also provide initial follow-up care to make sure the cancer remains in remission.

Balancing Quality of Life and Making Tough Decisions for Your Pet

One of the most challenging aspects of a veterinary oncologist’s job lies in helping pet owners understand the likely outcome of treatment, and the quality of life that their pet may have once treatment is complete.

Cancer strikes elderly pets most often, and is the leading cause of death among older dogs and cats. But cancer isn’t a “death sentence” in and of itself. Many cats and dogs, even older ones, respond well to various therapies and enjoy a happy, healthy life for years following treatment.

Veterinary oncologists employ a scale called the HHHHHMM Scale to evaluate and discuss quality of life issues with pet owners. The letters in the scale’s name stand for hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility, and more good days than bad ones.

Using this scale, the oncologist will help you evaluate your pet’s quality of life before treatment and the likely outcomes of that treatment so that you can make an educated decision regarding euthanasia and other options at multiple stages in the treatment regime.


Author: Giano Panzarella

[Image via: Pexels]