A cancer diagnosis for your best friend may seem like devastating news, but veterinary oncology has come a long way, and pets with cancer can now often be helped. Advances made in human cancer diagnosis and therapy are often adopted by veterinary medicine and used in pets.
Many of our NVA Compassion-First hospitals have a dedicated oncology team to guide clients and their pets along their cancer journey, using the most cutting-edge diagnostics and therapies. In honor of National Pet Cancer Awareness Month, we have enlisted the help of Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialist’s board-certified veterinary oncologist, Dr. Brooke Fowler, who also serves on the NVA Compassion-First Specialty Advisory Board, to answer some pet owners’ questions about cancer and veterinary oncology.
What are common cancer signs I should watch for in my pet?
As a pet owner, you are likely concerned about cancer, and knowing what to watch for, and seeking advice quickly, can help your veterinarian make a diagnosis earlier, when treatment can be more successful. Common cancer signs include:
Dr. Fowler emphasizes the importance of your pet being evaluated if you think something is off. “Trust your gut,” she says. “You live with your dog or cat, whereas your veterinarian knows them for only small stints. If you think something may be wrong, your veterinarian should hear you out and evaluate your pet.”
What cancer types are common in pets?
Pets can develop cancer of any body organ, but Dr. Fowler most commonly diagnoses:
When should my pet see a veterinary oncologist?
Although your family veterinarian can treat many of your pet’s problems, cancer treatment often becomes complicated and requires a veterinary specialist’s expertise and experience. If your family veterinarian suspects your pet has cancer, it is never too early to seek a veterinary oncologist’s help. “If your primary care veterinarian is concerned that cancer is a likely differential, you may want to seek an oncologist’s help to make the diagnosis as seamless as possible,” Fowler says. “Oncologists are often aware of less invasive diagnostic tests, such as bladder antigen testing, or molecular diagnostics, which allow us to skip other tests, and get straight to the answer.”
Seeing a veterinary oncologist does not mean that you need to pursue extensive diagnostics and treatments, if that is not your wish. Fowler goes on to say, “Our oncologists will never pressure you into treatment, but will discuss all options, and consider the tests they choose, your treatment goals, and your pocketbook. My role is to educate people so they can make good decisions for their beloved pets. If your pet’s cancer is untreatable, there are often palliative and comfort care options that can be creatively considered, and an oncologist can help you make decisions regarding hospice care. My role is also to encourage quality of life over quantity, and to help people feel complete if they ultimately lose their pet to cancer. Never underestimate the power of having a team to support you, especially during hard times.”
How will my pet’s cancer be treated?
The treatment prescribed for your pet will depend on their cancer type, location, and severity. Some cancers are localized to a single area, and can be surgically removed. For cancers that are not restricted to a tumor, cannot be completely excised, or may have metastasized (i.e., spread), other treatments may be available, including:
Dr. Fowler says, “Once a diagnosis is established, we can delve into which treatments will be most appropriate, given the client’s financial constraints and treatment goals, and the prognosis for each therapy.”
How is veterinary oncology different from human oncology?
Although veterinary oncology benefits from advances in human cancer treatment, they have a number of differences, including:
If your family veterinarian suspects that your pet may have cancer, contact your local NVA Compassion-First emergency and specialty hospital to discuss treatment options that can offer your companion more time, and a better quality of life.