Navigating Dog Cancer Treatment Options

When you have emotionally survived the initial shock of your dog’s cancer diagnosis and have spoken with your dog’s veterinarian or veterinary oncologist about all of your questions, the decision “ball” is – whether you are ready to catch it or not – proverbially tossed into your hands. You are left with the big question of how do I treat this dog cancer.

You have been armed with a seemingly enormous amount of information, and now you are expected to make a decision on how you want to go about treating your best buddy’s dog cancer.

For many of us who find ourselves in this situation, this decision can be incredibly difficult and weigh heavily upon us.  Oftentimes, many thoughts crop up in our minds:

  • Am I making the right decision for my dog?
  • What if the treatment option I choose makes my dog sick?
  • What if the treatment option I choose doesn’t work on my dog’s cancer?
  • Will I be able to change my decision if the first treatment option isn’t working in the way that we had hoped?
  • What if my dog doesn’t survive surgery?
  • What if I cannot afford the best treatment option?
  • What if my schedule doesn’t allow for me to have my dog treated in the manner in which I would like?
  • What if my dog doesn’t like going to the vet’s office routinely for treatment?
  • What if those people close to me don’t approve of my decision?
  • Am I a bad or cold-hearted person for not wanting or being able to go with the best treatment option for my dog?

The sheer number of worrisome thoughts that swirl around in our minds can create a significant barrier to actually making a decision.  We may have an enormous amount of information at our disposal on how to treat dog cancer but still be at a standstill as to what to do with it all.  The “what if” questions can really take a toll on our emotions.

We have to remember, however, that cancer in dogs doesn’t truly follow any sort of medical rule book.  While we know that specific types of cancer typically behave in specific ways, there are always outliers.  For example, a dog with t-cell lymphoma typically does not respond as well or as long to chemotherapy treatment as a dog with b-cell lymphoma.  However, there are many cases of t-cell patients outliving b-cell patients!  We utilize statistics and anecdotal evidence in order to guide our decision-making process; but, in the end, there is no guarantee that the cancer in question will behave exactly the way that we expect it to.

Why is this uncertainty important to remember?  The uncertainty in and of itself – for better or for worse – helps us realize that there is no single correct decision to be made.  There are oftentimes several treatment options that can be utilized, and the outcomes of those treatment options may not turn out to be the same as what we anticipate them to be.

We can drive ourselves crazy thinking about the “what ifs,” and in so doing may come to a standstill with our decision on how to proceed.  Inaction is still a form of action – deciding to do nothing is still a decision!  The “what if” questions will do nothing but create more stress and irrational guilt over something that we cannot really control.

So, when we are on the brink of this decision precipice, what should we be remembering in order to make the best decision possible on how to treat dog cancer for our beloved buddy?

  • What is my dog’s personality type? Can he/she emotionally handle the type of dog cancer treatment that I am thinking about pursuing?
    • Does the treatment involve veterinary visits once a week, every other week, or monthly? Does the treatment involve staying in the hospital for a period of time?
    • Does the treatment involve a surgical procedure that will require a specific recovery period in which your dog will need to be kept calm and quiet?
    • Is the treatment performed at home, such as with some oral medications? Is it difficult to give your dog oral medications?
  • What type of treatment schedule am I looking at with the decision that I am making?
    • Will you need to be making frequent trips to the veterinary clinic? If so, how far is it to travel from your home to the treatment facility?
    • Does the treatment period last for days, weeks, or months?
  • What are the expected side effects of the treatment option that I wish to pursue?
    • Are you prepared to work through these side effects if they do crop up?
    • Are you prepared for handling the aftermath of an unsuccessful surgery?
  • What is my financial stability in the short-term and in the long-term if I choose this specific treatment option?

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While these questions are likely to make you realize what you and your dog can truly handle when it comes to deciding on a cancer treatment plan, their answers are more empowering than playing the “what if” game.  For instance, you may realize that you cannot pursue weekly chemotherapy for your dog with lymphoma because that would mean travelling three hours to the closest facility that offers this form of treatment, and you have to work five days a week.  Or, your schedule may allow you to accommodate this kind of travelling schedule, but your dog may be too stressed to travel back and forth to the treatment facility that often.  Or, you may not be able to afford such an aggressive treatment plan.

The decisions that we make for our beloved best friends must benefit everyone involved, the collective family unit.  Our decisions must benefit our dogs as well as ourselves and our families.

The ultimate goal presented to us by our veterinarian is to provide our dog with the best care possible within our financial means that will allow him/her to have a good quality of life for as long as possible.  What isn’t directly stated but is implied is that our quality of life during this time should also be good.  When either our dog’s quality of life or our quality of life begins to suffer, fatigue and resentment may begin to ensue.  We do not wish to remember our dog’s final months or days as ones filled with hardship or stress.  We pursue cancer treatment for our buddies because we want to preserve the bond that we share with them and because we want them to achieve the happiest and most fulfilling life that they can for as long as possible.

When making your decision on how to treat dog cancer, take the time to ask and answer these difficult questions and make your decision on the treatment options that are available.  Remember that cancer does not always follow the rules; it keeps us on our toes much of the time.  Make a decision based on what your dog and you can live with.  Know that there is no wrong answer when it comes to cancer in dogs.  Each dog, each person, each family unit is different.  What you decide for your dog may be vastly different from what another person decides, and that is alright.  Know what all of your options are, and make the best decision that you can possibly make given your own unique circumstances.  Everyone’s basic goal is the same . . . to have more good days with our best buddies . . .