Cancer Care for Pets: The Role of Oncologists in Animal Specialist Care
One of the most daunting diagnoses a pet owner can face is that of cancer in their beloved animal. Yet today there are more options than ever to treat and manage many types of cancers in pets. This is thanks to major advances in veterinary oncology – the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and tumors in animal patients.
Veterinary oncologists are at the forefront, using their specialized expertise to guide pets and owners through the process of diagnosis, treatment planning, and follow-up care. Their skills can prolong life and often achieve remission. For owners, understanding how oncology specialists can help is key to ensuring their pet benefits from the best cancer care medicine has to offer.
An Overview of Veterinary Oncology
Veterinary oncology focuses on the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer and tumoral diseases in pets. Common cancers like lymphoma, osteosarcoma, and mammary tumors in dogs and cats can often be treated. Oncologists utilize cutting-edge tools like biopsy procedures, imaging, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and advanced medications to combat cancer. Treatment plans are tailored to the type and stage of each pet’s disease.
Oncologists coordinate care with the pet’s primary veterinarian to align treatment approaches. Becoming a veterinary oncologist requires a 2-3 year residency after veterinary school, allowing them to gain extensive expertise in this complex field. This benefits the quality of care for every pet.
The Benefits of Specialist Care
There are several advantages to having a veterinary oncologist involved in your pet’s cancer care:
- Access to advanced diagnostics like MRI, CT, and scopes to detect and biopsy tumors
- Ability to create customized treatment protocols based on cancer type, location, and stage
- Specialized surgeries available to remove tumors in hard-to-reach locations
- Cutting-edge radiation therapy technology to target cancers
- Chemotherapy drugs and regimens tailored for pets to minimize side effects
- Clinical trials for emerging immunotherapies and targeted drugs
- Superior monitoring, medication adjustment, and side effect management
- Guidance on quality of life, prognosis, and decisions around palliative care vs. aggressive treatment
This high level of specialized care improves outcomes and survival times. Oncology care requires an expert.
Understanding Your Pet’s Diagnosis & Options
Getting a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming. Oncologists play a pivotal role in helping owners understand key aspects:
- Diagnostic results – tumor location, size, metastases, biopsy analysis
- Disease staging – markers like lymph node samples, imaging, bloodwork
- Type – carcinoma, sarcoma, leukemia, lymphoma each have tailored treatments
- Tumor grade – how abnormal the cells appear under a microscope
- Clinical staging – the extent of progression and spread
- Treatment Plan – the recommended protocols and projected response
- Prognosis – anticipated survival times and odds for remission/cure with treatment
- Quality of life – impact on energy, appetite, pain levels
Armed with this knowledge, owners can make informed decisions on paths forward. Oncologists provide guidance every step of the way.
Oncology Success Stories
To showcase the real impact of veterinary oncologists, here are examples of pets with positive outcomes:
Remy, an 8-year-old Golden Retriever, was diagnosed with splenic hemangiosarcoma after collapsing. His oncologist removed his spleen and started chemotherapy. Two years later, Remy is still in remission with no detectable cancer.
Luna, a 3-year-old Siamese cat, had a large intestinal mass. Her biopsy revealed lymphoma. After months of chemotherapy, Luna went into complete remission and has maintained normal energy and appetite with no further therapy needed.
The Pet Practice from Perth note that these success stories demonstrate that cancer does not have to be an automatic death sentence. With the expertise of a veterinary oncologist and advances in treatment, pets can defy the odds.
Questions to Ask Your Veterinary Oncologist
Receiving a cancer diagnosis for your beloved pet is devastating. But veterinary oncologists can guide you through it. Important questions to ask include:
- What type of cancer is it? Location? Any metastases?
- What diagnostics and staging have you performed?
- Has the cancer been biopsied and graded?
- What clinical stage is cancer? How severe?
- Is it likely responsive to available treatments?
- What is my pet’s treatment options and odds for remission?
- Can you walk through each treatment protocol and side effects?
- Is there a clinical trial for emerging therapies we could try?
- What is the projected survival time with and without treatment?
- How will treatment impact quality of life for my pet?
- What follow up monitoring will be involved?
- Are there any diet or lifestyle changes I should make?
- What symptoms means I should call you before the next visit?
- How will we determine if/when a shift to hospice care is appropriate?
Don’t hesitate to ask additional questions to understand the diagnosis, prognosis, options, and timeline. Oncologists know this knowledge empowers owners to make the best decisions during a heart-wrenching time. Their guidance and compassion provide essential support.
Signs It May Be Time to See an Oncologist
Catching cancer early is critical. Be alert for these signs warranting oncology evaluation:
- Unexplained Lumps – New soft tissue masses or tumors detected on exam or at home. Could mean mammary tumors, lipomas, mast cell tumors.
- Unhealed Wounds – Sores, masses or ulcers that won’t heal warrant biopsy. Skin cancers like melanoma begin this way.
- Abnormal Bleeding – Unprovoked bleeding from nose or mouth, bloody urine or stool, hematomas. Could indicate cancers like hemangiosarcoma, leukemia, bladder cancer.
- Enlarged Lymph Nodes – Swollen nodes in neck or groin signal potential lymphoma.
- Lameness – Persistent or worsening limping or stiffness may be bone cancer like osteosarcoma.
- Abdominal Distension – Enlarged belly with fluid retention can mean masses or ruptured tumors are present.
- Weight Loss – Rapid loss of weight despite a good appetite can signal cancer in pets. Tumors alter metabolism.
- Low Energy – Chronic lethargy or tiring easily may be cancer-related anemia.
If any suspicious or persistent symptoms arise, always get them checked by your vet. But if cancer is suspected, seeing an oncologist right away is key to diagnosing and staging accurately. Timely specialist intervention makes a difference in fighting cancer.
The detection and treatment of cancer in pets has advanced tremendously with the rise of veterinary oncology as a specialty. Oncologists offer screened hope – honest prognoses while maximizing quality of life and longevity. Access to this high-quality care is a gamechanger for owners seeking the best chance of protecting their pet from cancer. With an oncologist’s partnership, there is hope.