by Angie Hultgren
When dealing with a human illness, we are given the option of treatment, advancements in medicine and the possibility a light at the end of a very long tunnel. According to cancer.net statistics, we have a sense of hope due to nearly 68 percent of cancer survivors in the U.S. being in remission for over five years, a percentage that is nearly 400 percent higher than it was in 1971. But what about your furry friend? What if he or she gets diagnosed with cancer?
As a pet owner, cancer instills significant worry. Cancer causes struggles one can simply not comprehend; moments of despair followed by moments of dread. Dr. Christine Swanson, a veterinary oncologist at Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, said, “most owners worry about their pet suffering and feel that diagnosis is a death sentence.”
In contrast, canines develop cancer at a similar rate as humans. Lymphosarcoma and mast cell cancer are the strains most commonly found in canines. Mast cells are what we find within connective tissue. In Lymphoma, swollen lymph nodes can usually be detected in order to identify the disease early.
Those facts are interesting, but that still leaves the owner with a number of nagging questions concerning the next step in ensuring their pets health and happiness. Because we ascribe our human emotions to the dog, we anticipate their experiences will be similar to ours when it comes to cancer treatments. However, according to the National Canine Cancer Foundation, a treatment such as chemotherapy can add to their quality of life and side effects are significantly milder in pets in comparison to humans. Dr. Swanson indicates that pet owners will often notice a change in behavior such as lack of energy or appetite, but that most cancers in dogs are not painful for them. In fact, Dr. Swanson says that with modern medicine, “many forms of cancer are treatable and even curable for dogs. For those cancers that are not curable, we can often find a treatment that will maintain an excellent quality of life while trying to extend that life as much as possible.”
Treatments for cancer can range from medication, surgery, radiation and at certain veterinarian facilities, clinical trials. Even when facing such heavy options, Stacie McKinley, a licensed veterinary technician, provides a level of compassion and grace when working with each family.
“Most of the patients that I meet have a disease that will end their lives too soon,” McKinley said. “If I am able to make it a positive experience for the pet and they are calm and comfortable, that helps ease the owners fears as well.”
Our emotions often get the best of us. When this happens, we should remember that our pets live in the moment. Families should be comfortable with their decision even if treatment is not an option. Not every pet has can be treated, and not every owner has the capability to support the cost of care.
With any difficult disease, there are times when your forever friend loses their quality of life. Whether during treatment or not, the decision needs to be made by the individual that best knows the pet. In these cases, Dr. Swanson has some great advice for making that heart-breaking decision.
“I typically talk with families about picking four or five behaviors that are unique to their pet. When their pet is no longer doing those things, perhaps it is time to consider euthanasia.” As owners, we have the responsibility to ensure our pets live lives of respect and dignity. This idea means different things to different owners. If you find yourself down this path with your companion animal, give them lots of snuggles and a few extra treats. Both of you deserve it.
“Without pain, how could we know joy?”
-John Green, The Fault in our Stars
Angie Hultgren spends her days as a Marketing Strategist with the Bengtson Center for Aesthetics & Plastic Surgery. She loves family, faith and her four legged friends.