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Pet Parents Coping with Cancer

on December 3, 2015
Posted in Parent Help

Cancer is a common diagnosis in pets. There are many types of cancer that can afflict pets. If your pet is diagnosed with cancer you may feel overwhelmed and terrified. Here are some suggestions to help you cope with a diagnosis of cancer in your pet.

Be Sure You Understand the Diagnosis

The first thing you need to do when your pet receives a cancer diagnosis is to make certain that you understand everything you can about it. Your veterinarian is your best source of information. It is important to thoroughly understand and have a basic working knowledge of the following:

  • The type of cancer.
  • The stage of your pet’s cancer and what that means.
  • Your pet’s treatment options, the associated risks and average outcomes of each one.
  • A typical prognosis if the cancer is left untreated.
  • Changes you can expect to see in your pet as the illness progresses.

Thoroughly understanding as much as you can about your pet’s diagnosis, treatment options, and prognosis will help you cope with the situation. You will be more confident about making decisions for your pet, and you’ll feel calmer being aware of what to expect. You’ll also be better prepared to handle each stage of illness as it comes.

Find Someone with Whom You Can Talk

It always helps to have someone to talk to when you are feeling upset or scared about your pet’s cancer diagnosis. This may be a friend or family member, someone who’s pet went through the same disease process, or a licensed counselor. Your veterinarian may be able to recommend someone if needed.

Be Your Pet’s Advocate

You are your pet’s best friend and you are the closest to him. Make it your mission to watch him carefully for any signs of discomfort and report them immediately to your veterinarian. Keeping your pet comfortable will help you both cope with the cancer better, and being your pet’s advocate will help you feel empowered and more calm.

Your veterinarian can help your pet with many of the side effects of the cancer or cancer treatments including pain, nausea, and decreased appetite. It’s up to you to recognize the signs that your pet needs this help and ask for it.

Your veterinarian can help you learn and identify the signs of pain, discomfort, and nausea in your pet so you can report them as soon as they begin.

Ditch the Guilt

Some pet parents feel guilty when their pet is diagnosed with cancer, fearing that they might have done something to cause it. Others would like to pursue more treatment options but don’t have the means to do so. It’s important that you don’t allow guilt to overwhelm your thoughts and cloud your decision-making when it comes to your pet’s cancer. You are your pet’s best friend, and anything and everything you do for him, as long as you are coming from love and working to ensure his comfort, is enough.

Ask Your Veterinarian about Alternative Treatment Methods

There may be alternative treatment options for your pet’s cancer that don’t involve conventional chemotherapy or radiation. Ask your veterinarian to go over them with you or get a referral to a holistic veterinarian if yours isn’t familiar with alternative treatment modalities.

It is also possible to use conventional cancer treatments for your pet and add alternative therapies to ease the side effects of those treatments and of the cancer itself. These are supportive therapies that can help your pet’s body cope with the treatment and the cancer. They can also be used as palliative treatments to ease your pet’s cancer signs if you elect to forego treatment. Some of these therapies include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic
  • Herbal supplements
  • Holistic Nutrition

Acupuncture is helpful for animals with cancer pain and  is often used to help support them through chemotherapy. Acupuncture does however have a lot of benefits for cancer patients. Many cancer patients outlive the original prognosis when treated with acupuncture–sometimes this is years longer. Acupuncture increases quality of life–the pets feel better, have more energy and are happier. Most acupuncture patients have better circulation, increased appetite and a better immune system.

Chiropractic care is also helpful for cancer patients. It will not cure cancer but if the spine is properly aligned and adjusted, the immune system will function better. This often improves the prognosis. Chiropractic can help mitigate chemotherapy symptoms, improve appetite, decrease nausea and relieve pain.

There are many herbal supplements that can be helpful for cancer treatment in dogs. Some of these have been used for years in humans but are now being used in dogs. Herbals are used for support when the patient is undergoing chemotherapy, as stand alone treatments, or as palliative therapies.  It is important to use herbals that have been formulated for pets as human products may contain alcohol which is toxic to pets. Tinctures in glycerin are much safer than alcohol tinctures. Pet Wellbeing’s Life Gold is one example of an herbal formula in glycerin. Astragalus and Burdock are in this formula and in Hoxsey formula–another popular herbal for cancer support.

Other useful herbals to support the body are Milk Thistle, Rehmannia, Cat’s Claw, Dandelion and Echinacea.

Holistic Nutrition is always the foundation of any cancer treatment. Starting with a good high quality mostly protein diet is essential. A diet that is at least 70 % protein and grain free is very important as many cancer thrive on carbohydrates. High protein diets starve these cancers. A home prepared diet is best for these pets.  Gently cooked food is better than raw for these pets as they often do not have the digestive power to break down the raw food. In addition, dogs receiving chemotherapy may lack the proper immune function to destroy bacteria found in raw meat. Fish protein is often preferred because of the high amounts of Omega 3 fatty acid found in fatty fish. Omega 3 in the form of marine oil should be  supplemented in all cancer diets as it is a great antioxidant and a natural anti inflammatory. Flaxseed oil is not recommended as dogs and cats can not use the form of Omega 3 found in flaxseed oil.

Probiotic supplementation with things like the Ultimate Probiotic are important to maintain appetite, gastrointestinal health and immune function. SPARK supplement from Pet Wellbeing is a great supplement for any cancer patient as it contains pre and probiotics as well as enzymes, vitamins and minerals, fiber, antioxidants, greens, fruits and vegetables and Vitamin D. Often cancer patients treated holistically have better coats and just look better than their healthy housemates.

There are many things you can do to support your pet through a cancer diagnosis. Conventional, holistic and  palliative treatments can be combined to make your pet as happy and as comfortable for as long as possible. Assessing Quality of Life and how your pet is coping with his cancer is very important. We have included a Quality of Life Scale here to help you decide when it’s time to say goodbye. Please see our other blog post called : “When it’s time to say Goodbye” for more information on euthanasia of pets.


Read also: Exercise with your Pets for Pet Wellbeing and disease prevention

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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