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Tips For Caring For A Dog With Cancer

Learning that your dog has cancer can be both heartbreaking and overwhelming. As you absorb the shock, you might find it helpful to also absorb these two points quickly: First, cancer treatments have come a long way. Innovations in veterinary science have made it possible in many cases to significantly extend your dog’s life, sometimes by a couple of years or more, while also maintaining his or her quality of life. Second, as scary as cancer can be, there are other “C-words” that matter more to your dog at this time. Be assured that an abundance of care, comfort and compassion will go a long way toward helping your canine companion feel as good as possible throughout his or her cancer journey.

There are many types of canine cancer and thus a wide range of treatment protocols that might be recommended. However, some actions that you can take are universal regardless of what type of cancer your dog has. Likewise, some thought processes that you can follow apply across the board. With that in mind, here are some tips for how to care for a dog with cancer:

Be Positive

Having optimism as your guide can provide the encouragement you need to give your dog the best level of care that you can. Medical advancements are one reason to be optimistic. A good example is Stereotactic Radiation. This is an advanced form of radiation therapy that uses unprecedented precision and higher doses of radiation that are directed directly at the tumor. Key benefits are the precision means that healthy tissue surrounding the tumor can be spared damage to the degree possible, there are fewer side effects, and because of the higher dosage, fewer treatments are needed. With traditional radiation, a dog might be scheduled for 16 to 21 treatments. By contrast, Stereotactic Radiation typically requires just one to three treatments, which means the stricken dog undergoes anesthesia a lot less often. These types of advancements in veterinary science are ongoing and are a reason to be optimistic about treatment options when you are caring for a dog with cancer.

Learn About Your Pet’s Type of Cancer

“Cancer” is such a blanket term that significant differences among the various types can get lost. Some cancers are curable. Some are treatable but not curable. There are differences in the ways they are diagnosed, several different treatment options, and prognoses that run the gamut of possible outcomes. This makes it critical that you learn and understand as much as possible about your dog’s specific type of cancer. Your top source should be your dog’s medical team because of their knowledge of your dog’s specific situation and medical history. However, an abundance of online resources also is available to supplement your knowledge, including PetCure Oncology’s library of resources for dogs with cancer.

Learn About How Types of Tumors Are Diagnosed and Tested

A time-proven truth is that knowledge is power. That certainly applies when it comes to your dog’s cancer diagnosis. The more you understand about how diagnoses are made, the more confident you will be when you and your dog’s veterinarian decide on a course of treatment. Diagnoses do not rely on symptoms alone. Observations give way to testing, and that’s when science takes over. Typically, some combination of bloodwork, urinalysis, X-rays and a microscopic lab analysis of a tissue sample (retrieved via a biopsy or aspiration) will provide the veterinarian with a pretty clear picture of what type of cancer the dog has, how aggressive it is, how advanced and whether it has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body). You will get a similarly clear idea by learning about what’s being tested and how.

Do Research on Treatment Options

Surgery. Radiation. Chemotherapy. The lineup of potential treatments for a dog with cancer can seem pretty scary — but the more you learn, the less frightening it becomes. Take chemotherapy. The thought of putting your dog through chemo might have you envisioning him or her losing her fur and feeling nauseated, two common side effects for humans undergoing chemotherapy. However, dogs generally handle chemotherapy much better than people do. Similarly, if you are unfamiliar with advances in radiation technology, you may find assurance knowing that technology allows radiation oncologists to target tumors with great precision, sparing healthy tissues near the tumor to the degree possible. Likewise, surgeries typically are performed only after extensive precautions are taken, such as tests to determine whether your dog is a good candidate in terms of handling anesthesia. Familiarity with these options will allow you to worry less about treatments being harsh and focus more on the chances of a good outcome.

Select a Veterinary Oncologist

Chances are that you are happy with your dog’s regular veterinarian, or you wouldn’t keep making visits. However, very few veterinarians are experts on cancer and even fewer have expertise in particular treatments. For instance, out of 13,539 board-certified diplomates, only 114 specialized in radiation oncology (as of December 2018), according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Specialization makes a difference. As an example, consider the case of a dog with a soft tissue sarcoma between its toes. A radiation oncologist has the expertise to plan the treatment with such precision that, if it’s at all possible, the radiation field will avoid the dog’s paw pads even though the tumor is right between the toes. If the pads were radiated due to a lack of precise targeting, they could eventually slough off (peel away), leaving them tender and affecting the dog’s ability to walk without discomfort. Instead, the tumor is damaged and the dog only experiences the temporary equivalent of a bad sunburn.

When selecting a veterinary oncologist, look for such expertise and experience. Research their specialties and reviews and ask your regular veterinarian and fellow pet owners for recommendations.

Maintain Your Dog’s Lifestyle to the Degree Possible

As your dog battles cancer and goes through treatments, you can expect good days and bad days. This new normal should not knock the “old” normal out of the way. Your dog still wants to move around and explore, play and be with you. Some days may be more challenging than others, but exercise, walks, play, grooming and other parts of his or her routine will maintain some sense of normal.

Consider Quality of Life and Learn About Palliative Care Options

Unfortunately, many types of cancer cannot be cured. That doesn’t mean they can’t be treated, however. Some treatments are designed to slow the cancer’s progression rather than cure it, with the aim of giving your dog the best quality of life possible and maximizing your time together. PetCure Oncology performs palliative radiation to improve quality of life. It can reduce pain, sometimes substantially — to the point your dog won’t need medication.

There are also veterinarians whose sole practice is making house calls to provide comfort care and, when necessary, euthanasia service. To comfort a dog with cancer, their care might include pain management and/or administering fluids to keep your dog hydrated. When quality of life diminishes, however, you may face some tough decisions. If your dog’s behavior changes, it might be a sign that he or she is no longer able to get comfortable. For instance, if he or she typically sleeps in a particular spot but is now always seeking a cold tile floor, it could be a sign that the cancer is taking a toll.

At PetCure Oncology, Our Mission Is to Help

PetCure Oncology offers a wide range of cancer treatment options, including innovative Stereotactic Radiation. That’s what we do, but here’s who we are: compassionate, supportive and professional at all times. When we say, “We understand. We commit. We will help.” those are not just words — they represent our mission. Learn about our treatments for dogs with cancer, or find our nearest location and contact us today to learn more.


The contents of this article were provided in part by Dr. Renee Alsarraf, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), a board-certified veterinary medical oncologist and member of PetCure Radiation Oncology Specialists (PROS).

More than 6,000 pet families have chosen PetCure Oncology for their dog or cat's cancer therapy. We give your pet a fighting chance to improve their quality of life. We understand. We commit. We will help.

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