The decisions surrounding dog cancer treatment can be complicated.
This is not only because of the treatments themselves. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation have multiple steps. Diet and supplements are not necessarily strait forward either. Steps to change a dog’s brain chemistry to a cancer fighting state take some doing as well. Boosting life quality needs attention.
But that’s not all.
Even before embarking on a treatment, we have to consider what steps to take. Since we do not yet have a cure for systemic cancer (that cannot be removed with surgery alone), decisions can be tricky.
If cancer was a disease like diabetes, it is clear that insulin, diet and weight management are what we do. A clear treatment for the disease is known. The treatment usually manages the disease. There is adjusting along the way, but the steps are clear and they produce expected results.
But not with dog cancer. With this disease, we have multiple treatments. Some dogs respond, but others don’t. There are side effects to consider and manage. The result of the treatments vary as different dogs with the same cancer get different remission times. Life quality during treatment varies.
And then of course there are issues related to age. How far should a guardian go to prolong the life of a dog if that dog is close to, or has exceeded, her life expectancy already?
Let’s look at how you answer these questions.
The first step is always asking yourself the question, “What kind of person am I?” This means that your ideas and values are important and need to be recognized. You must understand that in the realm of conventional care, which is surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, the life extension your dog gets will be in proportion to the risk of side effects and your budget.
So what is your feeling, what is important to you. Are you willing, and do you have the means, to get increased lifespan that costs more? Where your dog may experience life quality issues like surgical recovery, loss of appetite, vomiting, and occasionally even other more severe issues? Do you have the time needed to devote to a dog cancer treatment plan? Trips to the veterinary hospital? Being vigilant and monitoring your dog, administering medication, and so on?
You must recognize where you stand as step one. This is part of being a Guardian. In order to do this succesfully, you need to arm yourself with the information you need to answer these questions. The Dog Cancer Survival Guide is designed to help you answer questions like this.
You also need to consult with your veterinarian and if you can, a veterinary oncologist. They will help you with information about finances, time involved in treatment, and statistics about what is gained from the treatment plan, and also give your information about what are side effects and life quality issues during treatment that you need to know.
Now, you should remember that the squeaky wheel gets the oil. It can be time consuming for a veterinary professional to put together cost estimates, and to give you the answers to your questions. Sometimes important pieces of information may get glossed over in the course of a busy day.
So go ahead and ask the following questions. If your vet or oncologist cannot answer right away, set up a follow up phone call.
a. Can you create an estimated budget for me on the treatments you are recommending?
b. What will the schedule be like for me and my dog? How many appointments are typical, and over what period of time, for both treatments, tests and follow up?
c. What are the statistics about the desired outcome of the treatments? How many dogs respond to the treatments? How long does this response last? What is the median life expectancy for other dogs like mine?
d. What is the frequency of side effects? What are the most common? What are more rare?
Answers to these questions will do a lot to give you the basic information you need about the conventional cancer treatment steps.
But that is not all..
We will look at more decisions that need to be made both before and during your dog’s cancer treatment in the next post.
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.