Pet owners are sometimes hesitant to pursue cancer treatment for their pets for a variety of reasons, such as fearing their pet’s fur will fall out, or they will experience unpleasant side effects. However, veterinary oncology is much different than human oncology, and owners who pursue cancer treatment for pets are often pleasantly surprised at how well they fare throughout the process. Although many of the same human therapies and medications are used, veterinary cancer treatment focuses heavily on a pet’s quality of life, with the belief that the treatment should never be worse than the disease.
To help illustrate the ups and downs of cancer treatment for pets, we asked one of our oncology patients, a 7-year-old Golden retriever named Charlie, to keep a journal that we could share with you. Here is Charlie’s account of his cancer journey.
My mom took me to visit our family veterinarian today because she felt two large lumps while scratching my favorite spot under my neck. I thought a visit was probably a good idea, since I had been a bit tired lately, and maybe needed new food or something to help me regain my normal energy. The veterinarian looked me over and found more lumps near my armpits, groin, and knees, and then drew blood and poked one of the lumps with a needle. I don’t like needle pokes, but I got lots of yummy treats, so I guess it was worth it.
I heard the veterinarian tell my mom that I had something called lymphoma, and she should take me to Upstate Vet, where they could give me medications to make the lumps go away and help me feel more energetic. My mom seemed upset, but it was actually a good day for me. My family totally spoiled me—more than they do on my birthday! They gave me extra treats and snuggles, and let me curl up on the couch for TV time, which is usually a big no-no.
My mom took me to Upstate vet to talk about the medications that will help me get better. They drew more blood—more treats!—and took chest X-rays, but they were gentle, so I didn’t mind. I think I will be getting to know my new friends at Upstate Vet well because they said I will come every week for cancer treatments.
When I arrived for my first treatment at Upstate Vet yesterday, the oncology team was really nice and took extra good care of me. I had to lie still while they put a needle in my leg and injected medication. They also sent pills home with my mom that I have to take every day. This morning, my mom put the pill in a hot dog piece and I could barely taste it. I feel tired today, so I’m headed to the couch to nap—my family lets me sleep on the couch all the time now!
At my second treatment at Upstate Vet, the oncology team drew blood to check my blood cell counts. The technician confirmed that my white blood cell levels were good and gave me the medication, and my other friends scratched behind my ears and gave me a big hug. I could get used to this weekly pampering! I felt a little more tired after last week’s treatment, but it lasted only a day, and I was ready for my regular walk the next morning.
Wow, time has really flown by. I have had weekly treatments all month, and they have gone pretty well. Last week, I felt a little nauseous and didn’t want to eat my dinner, so my veterinarian prescribed medication that helped a lot. The Upstate vet team also informed my mom that while chemotherapy medications would not make my fur fall out—except for my eyelashes and whiskers—new hair would grow more slowly and my golden coat might look a little thin. That’s no big deal since I have a lot of fur to spare!
I think the medications are really working. I am starting to feel like my old self again. Remember that I was feeling tired all the time? Well, I could play fetch every day now. And, I am waiting by my food bowl every night for dinner. My coat is looking a little thin, but I haven’t had any more nausea, and I am still getting spoiled by my family and the Upstate Vet team.
At my appointment today, the oncology team began counting down to my last treatment, which they said will be in four weeks. Overall, treatments haven’t been bad—I love all the extra attention, and the medications make me feel a little tired only for a day or so. I did have one off-week when we had to push my treatment back a few days because my white blood cell levels were low. The veterinarian explained that the medications they use specifically target fast-growing cancer cells, but my body’s normal fast-growing cells, such as blood cells, can also be affected. Giving the medication when my white cells are low can cause them to drop lower, which means I could pick up an infection and get sick.
The oncology team threw me a party today and said that I am officially in remission! I understand that remission does not mean my cancer is permanently gone, but I am grateful to be able to spend more time with my family. I feel good, and am enjoying life one game of fetch—and cozy couch nap—at a time!
While every pet’s cancer journey is different, Charlie’s experience captures the good and not-so-good days of his treatment. Our overriding goal for your pet is to maintain a good quality of life, and we do whatever it takes to fulfill that mission, from treating side effects to altering treatment protocols. If your primary care veterinarian has diagnosed cancer in your pet, contact our oncology department to discuss how we can provide cancer treatment for your pets and help them enjoy the best possible future.