When you are first told your beloved pet has cancer, it is devestating.
Having owned dogs for over 48 years, I unfortunately have gone through this exercise 3 times in my lifetime.
Here are the six things to consider once your pet is diagnosed with cancer.
1.) Discuss with your vet the comfort or discomfort of your dog. If you decide to do nothing or if you take the chemotherapy route, it is important to stay focused on how the patient will feel, even though the thought of letting them go is terrifying. Euthanasia is not really seen as an option at the initial diagnosis of cancer.
2.) Discuss the cost of the treatment. Chemotherapy is expensive. In pet chemotherapy, the protocol is palliative, not curative in most instances. As callous as this may sound, you have to decide if you can really afford to do "anything it will take" to help Fluffy. It may be unrealistic given house, family and educational expenses, to spend thousands of dollars on your pet. It sounds crass to think about dollars and cents at a time like this. However in these economic times, spending your life’s savings or putting yourself in credit card debt to gain a few months or years with your pet is a discussion you need to honestly have with yourself, your vet and your family.
3.) Ask about the time commitment of the process. Will you be able to make all the necessary appointments and keep your job? Will the chemotherapy last longer then the dog’s current life expectancy?
4.) Ask what side effects can be expected from the treatments. Whether it is radiation, surgery or chemotherapy. Most companion animal chemotherapies are not as radical as human treatments, so it doesn't make them sick or lose their hair. My experience with my dog’s chemotherapy was that the side effects were minimal. Except for being tired, which may simply be a result of the process and not the chemotherapy, I noticed no difference. Daisey was a different story. If I decided to go for the cure, which was uncertain, it meant the surgical removal of her right rear leg. It also involved recovery from the surgical procedure, risk of infection and recuperation therapy to learn to walk on three legs. This is an important consideration and questions to ask before you act.
5.) Time involved in recuperation. Whether it is chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, ask how long the recuperation period will be. Some treatments are less involved initially, but are more involved post treatment. That would be the case in all surgeries and some radiation therapies. The animals cannot be told what has happened to them and that it is for their own good; to make them feel better and to live longer. They just know they hurt or feel awful. You as the owner and caregiver have to block out time to be just that; a responsible caregiver or arrange for someone to do it in your place. It is my experience that the animal recovers more quickly when cared for by the one he/she loves.
6.) The last question, and often the most difficult is to ask is what is the life expectancy. I remember asking this question about my dogs, Raisin and Merlin. Their expectancy was far shorter than what they actually survived as a result of what the chemotherapy treatment had bought them. In Daisey's case, the reality was no one knew. Bone cancer, as a practical matter has a very short cycle and recurrence is expected. It is just a matter of when. For me the risk/reward for Daisey, her piece of mind and comfort, did not weigh in favor of surgery.
As you walk this road, contemplating which choice will be the right one for you, try and remember the pet in question in your deliberations. Don't only consider what is right for you and your needs. Remember this is a living-breathing companion whose comfort and quality of life needs to be considered.
I encourage you to listen to your "own" heart and mind. They will lead you to the right decision for yourself and your pet. Reach out to the grief counselors that are available at most veterinary care facilities now. Even if the dog survives and recovers, the trauma you go thru needs to be respected and comforted.
If you have any questions, please contact me.
You can find my contact information by googling Hamilton Law and Mediation