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Facing a Diagnosis: Cancer Treatment Options for Pets

Updated: May 1


A dog and a cat laying on top of eachother on the grass

Facing a diagnosis of cancer is perhaps one of the most challenging hurdles for a pet owner. 

Understanding that your beloved companion is battling cancer can lead to a huge amount of emotions and decisions regarding their care can feel overwhelming.


We're here to help guide you through these difficult times. 


In this article, we’ll explore the cancer treatment options available for your pets, aimed at enhancing their quality of life and providing them with the dignity they deserve.


In This Blog:

Understanding Cancer in Pets

Cancer, a broad term for diseases characterised by abnormal cell growth, affects pets much like it does humans. Unlike normal cells that grow in a controlled way, cancer cells don’t stop growing even when they aren't needed, which can lead to problems and result in large growths, known as tumours. These cancer cells can also invade and harm the surrounding healthy tissue. The term ‘neoplasia’ may also be used interchangeably with cancer.


There are two main types of tumours: benign and malignant. Benign tumours don’t spread to other parts of the body and, although they can grow large and cause issues, they are generally less dangerous and can often be removed. Malignant tumours, on the other hand, are what we typically think of as cancer. They can grow quickly, spread to other parts of the body, and are more challenging to treat.


Cancer can start in any part of a pet’s body and is named after the place where it originates. For instance, cancer that starts in the liver is called hepatocellular carcinoma. It's important to catch cancer early because it can spread, making treatment more difficult. There are a variety of treatment options available for pets with cancer.


Over the last few decades, veterinary oncology has made significant strides in diagnosing and treating cancer in animals. 


Treatment Modalities for Pet Cancer

The approach to treating cancer in pets typically involves three main modalities: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. These treatments can be employed individually or in combination, tailored to the specific needs of your pet’s condition.


Surgery

Surgical removal of tumours remains a foundational treatment method for many types of cancer in pets. It offers the possibility of a complete cure, especially if the cancer is localised and detected early. Surgery can also significantly alleviate discomfort, improve function, and enhance the overall well-being of your pet. However, it's crucial to balance the benefits of surgery with its potential risks, such as complications and post-operative discomfort. 


Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy employs high-energy rays to target and destroy cancer cells. It's particularly effective for certain types of cancer and can be used as a standalone treatment or in conjunction with surgery and/or chemotherapy. 


Advances in radiation therapy have improved its precision, minimising damage to healthy tissues and mitigating side effects. However, this is not the case for all forms of cancer and radiation therapy is not always effective. Therefore the use of radiation therapy will depend upon your pet’s diagnosis.


Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It’s often used when cancer has spread beyond its original site or to treat cancers that affect the entire body. While chemotherapy drugs affect both cancerous and healthy cells, modern veterinary practices aim to minimise discomfort and maintain a high quality of life during treatment. 


The most common goal of chemotherapy is to shrink, stop the growth of, or destroy the cancer without severe long term health consequences. Chemotherapy will likely be employed alongside another treatment method.


Combination Therapy: A Holistic Approach

In many, if not all, cases, a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy—tailored to the unique needs of your pet—offers the best chance for a positive outcome. 


This multi-pronged approach allows for a more comprehensive attack on cancer, reducing the likelihood of resistance and targeting the disease from multiple angles. 


Supporting Your Pet Through Cancer Treatment

Our services include palliative care, which focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness, and bereavement support to help families cope with the emotional aspects of their pet’s illness.


We are also here to discuss the difficult decisions about end-of-life care, offering compassionate in-home euthanasia services that allow your pet to pass peacefully surrounded by love. Our cremation and memorial services provide a way to honour and remember your beloved companion.


Facing a cancer diagnosis in a pet is a daunting experience, but you are not alone. With a range of treatment options tailored to your pet’s specific needs, our dedicated team is here to support you and your pet every step of the way. Together, we can make informed decisions that ensure your pet lives a comfortable, fulfilling life, no matter the challenges ahead.


If you and your pet are facing a cancer diagnosis and need advice, contact our team on 0800 049 5944 or request an appointment.

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