Your Pet Has Cancer: What Should You Do?

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As a pet owner, cancer is not something I even want to think about. But it’s a terrible reality. When companion animals are diagnosed with cancer, that leaves tough choices for their human parents.

Following are some steps you should take if you suspect your pet might have cancer — and what you should do if the disease is officially diagnosed.

Take your pet to the vet if something seems wrong

As with humans, early detection is the best — and least expensive — way to stop the spread of cancer. If you feel lumps on your pet, take it to the vet immediately.

If your vet suspects cancer, he or she will perform tumor staging by running a series of tests. This may include blood and urine screenings, X-rays and a tissue aspirate, which uses a needle to draw a small sample from a tumor.

After these tests, your vet may be ready to develop a prognosis and treatment plan for your pet. Depending on the type of cancer and the initial results, the vet may recommend further testing such as an endoscopy, CT scan or ultrasound.

Consider your treatment options

Pets can receive the same cancer treatment humans do. Often, the equipment and chemical compounds are the same ones used with humans who have cancer. Treatment options may include:

  • Chemotherapy. These drugs are given either orally or injected. Compounds in the drugs attack cancer cells, slowing down their ability to grow.
  • Radiation therapy. A device is used to expose a certain area of the body to photons or electrons that break down the cancer. Pets may receive either short-term or long-term radiation therapy.
  • Clinical trials. Veterinary oncologists use clinical trials to test new treatments and drugs. While clinical trials are experimental, they may benefit your pet. Your vet should be able to tell you about any available clinical trials and decide what benefit they may have for your furry companion.

Weigh the potential benefit to your pet

Ultimately, cancer is a tricky illness. While some cancers can be cured, others cannot and may require lifelong treatment to help your pet live more comfortably, and possibly prolong its life.

When it is time to decide on a course of treatment, you and your vet have to consider both the financial cost to you and the benefit to your pet. Ask questions and get your veterinarian’s thoughts about:

  • The best course of treatment
  • What the outcome is likely to be
  • How this will — or will not — improve the life of your pet
  • The cost

If you’re not sure, get a second opinion, perhaps from a veterinary oncologist specializing in cancer treatments for animals.

Think about the cost

Unfortunately, treating your pet won’t be cheap. Although costs vary, procedures and medications are likely to be expensive. Cancer is never cheap. Before deciding on a course of action, ask your vet about the full cost.

If you have pet insurance, it may cover some or all of your pet’s treatments, depending on the policy. If you don’t, you probably won’t be able to get insurance, since most pet insurance companies won’t cover pre-existing conditions.

If you can’t afford to pay for your pet’s treatment, talk to your vet or oncologist about discounts or payment plans for expensive procedures. For example, my vet allows monthly installments for treatments over $500.

Another option is to apply for a specific type of credit and pay the bill off over time. Companies offering credit for veterinary care include CareCredit. If approved, you’ll get a credit line that you can use to pay for your vet’s expenses. However, you’ll pay interest.

Finally, there are dozens of small charities that help with vet costs. Here are a couple of examples:

  • The Pet Fund. A registered charity that helps cover vet costs for both dogs and cats.
  • Canine Cancer Awareness. Provides some funding for needy pet owners. The charity also posts featured pets on their site and anyone can donate to further help with treatment.

The bottom line

It’s easy to imagine busting the budget fighting a losing battle: Just as our pets are trained to please us, we’re trained to do whatever it takes to keep our loved ones — including the furry kind — alive and well.

There’s no simple answer. What you should do depends on factors including how much money you have, how old the animal is, how sick it is, and the quality of life the pet might expect during and after treatment.

Do you have advice for owners of pets with cancer? Share your thoughts in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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