When Jet was first diagnosed with cancer everything the doctor said after the word ‘cancer’ fell on deaf ears. My heart dropped into my stomach, I wanted to throw up, and I tried to prepare myself for putting my boy to sleep.
I was devastated.
It’s not an uncommon reaction. In fact, it’s the same reaction that we have when hearing bad news from our own doctors. But today I want to talk about what comes after that moment.
What Do You Do After Your Dog Has Been Diagnosed With Cancer?
Your dog’s diagnosis isn’t necessarily going to be the same as Jet’s was (Canine Hemangiosarcoma), but no matter what their diagnosis is, there are some steps that you can take to fully grasp the situation that you are in.
If You Suspect Something is Wrong, Take Someone to the Vet With You
The first thing I will say is that before diagnosis if you suspect that something is wrong with your pup, ask someone to accompany you to the vet. This is exceptionally beneficial because, at the moment when you stop listening, they will be able to hear what the vet is saying and share it with you later.
If You Didn’t Take Someone to the Vet With You…
If you didn’t take someone to the vet with you, ask your vet to write down what you need to know about your dog’s diagnosis.
Your vet will understand that the shock of your dog’s diagnosis may be too much to process and should be more than happy to provide you with notes and resources to reference once the shock wears off.
Don’t Surf the Web
Many of us are guilty of running straight to Doctor Google once we receive a diagnosis. The trouble with this is that very often the resources you will find are non-professional accounts and “worst case scenarios”.
If you are interested in knowing more about your dog’s diagnosis go directly to an authority source like the National Canine Cancer Foundation Library.
Consider Your Treatment Plan
After your dog’s diagnosis, your vet will likely provide you with a treatment plan or a number of treatment plan options. Give yourself the rest of the day of diagnosis to come to terms with your dog’s diagnosis and the following day, look over the treatment plan or treatment plans.
If you need to make a decision on which treatment plan to go with, consider your dog’s age, health, and quality of life.
For example, when Jet was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, one of our options was to amputate his tail to ensure that all of the cancerous tissue had been removed. At the time, Jet was 13-years-old and had already been a heart disease patient for a while. I knew that a full tail amputation was not something that would be in his best interest and I made the choice to remove the tumor and hope for clean margins.
When choosing your treatment plan, ask yourself how your dog’s quality of life is going to be affected by the treatment plans you have been offered.
- Is your dog still young and capable of bouncing back after an extreme treatment measure like amputation?
- Will a treatment approach significantly extend your pet’s life or will it provide just a few more weeks or months during which your dog’s quality of life will be quite poor?
- Can you afford a treatment plan option?
- Has your dog’s cancer already progressed to a point where they are in pain and suffering?
There are so many questions to ask and answer and I know how overwhelming it can be. You are torn between wanting to do the best for your best friend, but often what is “best” isn’t as obvious as it should be.
What I can tell you here is to trust your gut.
You know your dog’s personality and you know how much their quality of life has been changed. You know how strong they are and how capable they are of bouncing back from extreme treatment measures. Trust yourself to make the right choice.
Once you have decided on a treatment plan for your dog’s cancer, follow through with that plan.
Make sure to keep every appointment, to give every medication on time, and keep notes.
Treatment plans require completion in order to be effective, so missing appointments can impact the effectiveness of your dog’s treatment.
Medications ease your dog’s discomfort as well as treat their illness, so keeping a regular schedule of medication dosing is important.
Sometimes it can be difficult to notice small changes in your pup throughout their treatment, so keeping notes is very helpful in noticing trends and changes in your dog’s behavior.
Research and Discuss Supplemental Treatment Plans
Put time into researching supplemental treatment plans and discuss them with your dog’s vet.
For example, consider a cancer starving diet and holistic medication supplementation and whether they might assist in your dog’s treatment plan.
If your vet agrees that these things may be beneficial, reach out to holistic vets and canine cancer specialists to find out how you can implement these things into your dog’s treatment routine.
Don’t Expect the Worst
When I first heard the word “cancer”, my first thought was that I was going to lose my boy. Almost two years later, Jet is still here and cancer free.
Now, I’m not saying that the worst may not be headed your way, but when you expect the worst before “knowing your enemy”, you deprive yourself and your dog of hope.
I know that not everyone believes in the power of positive thinking, but whether you believe it or not, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that our dogs pick up on and respond to our emotions.
How can you expect your dog to fight or enjoy their remaining time with you if you spend every moment thinking the worst?
I know it’s hard. You’re worried about the what if’s, about what you are going to do if you have to say goodbye…but the truth is that when the time comes, you will do what you need to do and you will find a way to make it through. So, for now, take it minute by minute, day by day, and enjoy the moments you have with your pup.
It’s Okay to Say “Enough”
Your dog’s response to treatment may change.
The nature of your dog’s cancer may change.
And when it does, it’s perfectly okay to say “enough.”
At any point during your dog’s treatment, if you feel that your dog has been through enough, that they are no longer enjoying a good quality of life, or that their treatment is worsening their health, it’s okay to stop.
Talk to your vet about your concerns, ask if there is another treatment option or if there is something that can be done to better help your pet cope with treatment. But know that if there is not another treatment option, if this was the only option, it’s still okay to say “enough” and bring your pup home for hospice care or to choose euthanasia.
It’s a decision that no pet parent wants to make and one that I think many of us need permission to make, but I’m here to tell you that it IS okay to make that choice.
Don’t Let Fear Rule Your Heart
Making the choice to end the life of a beloved companion is hard.
You are going to be afraid – what if you are making the wrong choice?
You are going to be reluctant – it is never natural to end the life of another living being.
You are going to be hesitant – what if it’s not time yet?
You are going to be heartbroken – how can you continue without your best friend by your side?
But in a time when your dog needs you most, you can’t let these things rule your heart.
The decision to end treatment for canine cancer or to put your suffering pup to sleep is not a choice they can make for themselves. And the incredible thing about dogs is that no matter how much pain they are in, no matter how much they are suffering, they will continue to hang on for us because we are their purpose, their reason for being.
So, it is at this moment that you need to cast aside your fear, have confidence in your bond with your dog, and know that somehow, when all is said and done, you will find a way to keep breathing.