Cancer Health

Pet Cancer Part I: Diagnosis & Decisions

Learn what it’s like when your pet is diagnosed with cancer and how to find a good veterinary oncologist to explore treatment options.

Pet cancer is scary, but let me start with this:

The most common types of canine and feline cancer are very treatable.

This is the first post in a series of posts about pet cancer. My goal is that IF you’re ever faced with making tough choices, you at least have some knowledge about it, and feel support from others. You are not a alone. Pet owners face this all of the time, as I did in 2018. Here is how I found out my oldest, Don Vito, had cancer.

Meet the Don

tabby cat
Vito lost weight, especially near the end of chemo.

Don Vito was my first ever pet, and I adopted him right out of college. We have a very strong connection, and when you look into his eyes, you feel like you’re looking at a person. He’s engaged and holds a gaze with you. He almost knows what you’re feeling, and responds: snuggles when I’m sad; gives me space when I’m hot; curls around my head when I have a migraine; sits on my chest when I have a cold. In fact, he’s an incredible judge of character, and if I listened to him, I would have probably made smarter dating and friendship choices:-)

Not a Lovely Lady Lump

In early 2018, I was watching TV and snuggling with Vito, when I felt a lump in the back of his neck. My heart sank. Where did this come from? I knew I didn’t fee lit before and the vet surely would have noticed it.

I took Vito back to Banfield Pet Hospital, and he saw his vet, Dr. Matt Montresor. He said the lump felt like a cyst, but in my gut, I knew something was wrong. How did it pop up so quickly? I didn’t like it one bit. Dr. Montresor and I agreed that surgery and a biopsy would be the best plan of attack.

Post-op, Dr. Montresor called and told me the lump was deeper than he had anticipated, and he had suspicions of what it was, but no further action could be taken until the biopsy results were back. Waiting for those results was torturous, but a few days later, Dr. Montresor called …

Cat with cut
Vito’s incision from his first surgery.

“Vito has fibrosarcoma …”

There was a lump in my throat, and it felt like my heart had been ripped in half all in an instant.

“… It’s a type of cancer. When I got these results, I was so mad, I threw my papers against the wall. Vito doesn’t deserve this. He’s such a good cat and I’m so mad at the universe for doing this to him.”

Does this mean he’s going to die? What do I do? Is it treatable? Do I treat him? Do I make him comfortable? How much does this all cost? So many questions were flooding my brain.

Decision #1: Should I seek an oncology consultation?

For your pet, you need to decide for yourself if you should go to a consultation. In my opinion, I think any pet is worth it because there are always developments and advancements in cancer treatment, and if you never go, you’ll never know. Like I said, most common canine and feline cancers are treatable. And, if treatment isn’t an option, an oncologist is the best one to help you prepare and plan for how to make your pet the most comfortable and have the best quality of life.

My Decision

I’d thought if one of my cats was diagnosed with cancer, treating it probably wouldn’t be worth it, but when faced with it, especially for my darling Vito, I realized I really knew nothing about it and maybe there was a chance to save him. I asked, “Is it worth at least exploring treatment?”

My vet responded, “Vito is otherwise healthy and is a very chill cat – super sweet and easy to treat. I think if any pet would make a good candidate for an oncology consultation, it would be Vito.”

cat in collar
Vito in his reverse collar post 1st surgery.

Decision #2: How do I find an oncologist?

  1. Your Vet. Ask for recommendations.
  2. Pet Owners. If you know of any friends or family who have been faced with a similar situation, ask them who they go to and if they like them. Even if you don’t know a pet with cancer, you probably have a friend who takes a pet to a specialist for something – ask them where they go, if they like it, and see if there are also oncologists at that location.
  3. Social Media Contacts. Follow pet people who lives in your general area on social media, and reach out to them for advice.
  4. Vet Schools. If you’re fortunate enough to be located near a vet school, they are a great resource, and often use the latest and greatest techniques. Even if you don’t want to go to a vet school, they’ll recommend other oncologists in your area.
  5. Vet Hospitals. Perform your own research. My recommendation is to look for a hospital that offers the most options for care, and has a group of oncologists. I prefer groups for a few reasons:
  • More vets = less waiting time. When your pet is diagnosed, you want to get them seen as soon as possible.
  • They naturally share information with each other. You could be getting a 2nd opinion without knowing.
  • When one oncologist is on vacation or out sick, another can step in if you have an issue or if your pet needs treatment.
  • More options for treatment gives you a better chance of finding the right one for your pet.
  • Groups at hospitals also have other specialists who may help your pet. A hospital that also offers acupuncture or laser treatment could supplement other treatments.

My Decision

First, Dr. Montresor suggested I see Christine Mullin, but when he looked up a hospital where he thought she was, she wasn’t listed. So, I was referred to Hope Veterinary Specialists in Malvern, PA, because one of my friends had taken her dogs there to see a dermatologist and really had a great experience. First, I reviewed services and saw a complete line of treatments. Then, I saw a list of oncologists. Next, I called Hope and by fate, Vito was scheduled for a consultation with Dr. Christine Mullin, Dr. Montresor’s former classmate! WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

Tabby cat on cat bed
Vito relaxing on his favorite kitty bed.

Decision #3: Can I afford an oncology consultation?

Specialists are typically in the $180-300 range, and a consultation for pet cancer is usually 30-60 minutes. They will take their time to present all options for you and get to know your pet. When you call to schedule an appointment, they should tell you the cost, but if they don’t , just ask.

If you don’t have the funds or need help, there are options. One of my entries in this series will go into more detail, but here are a few ways to get you started:

  1. GoFundMe. Invite friends, family, and social media contacts to donate.
  2. Credit. Some credit cards, like American Express, offer 0% financing for a small fee.
  3. CareCredit. This is a specific type of credit card that allows you to pay for medical expenses with no interest. You MUST research it first and find out if the vet accepts it. Don’t assume, because they don’t all accept it.
  4. Nonprofits. There are a number of organizations that help people who can’t afford to treat their pets. Here are two resources to get you started:

It is OK to decide it’s not affordable for you. It doesn’t make you a bad pet owner, or mean you don’t love your pet. Treating a pet with cancer while you can’t afford groceries or gas, isn’t a smart move. Be kind to yourself, and do not let ANYONE make you feel bad for what you decide. These situations are personal. NO ONE knows what’s best for you and your pet better than you do!

My Decision

I decided I could afford the consultation, but if there was extensive treatment, I might need assistance, so I would cross that bridge when I came to it. And if I really couldn’t afford treatment, I would accept it, and not blame myself for having limitations.

cat with certificate
Vito is proud of his certificate after his first surgery.

Up Next … Common Feline Cancers

In my next post, we’ll review what I learned about his cancer through my consultation with Dr. Mullin and research.

How do you detect cancer early? Annual vet appointments are crucial. You should also regularly brush them and clean their ears and face, as I describe in my previous blog entry.

By LizsKittyBootCamp

Hi, I'm Liz, and I'm a cat behaviorist who provides advice and insights on cat behavior.

4 replies on “Pet Cancer Part I: Diagnosis & Decisions”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.