Your pet is diagnosed with cancer, then what? You see a veterinary oncologist who presents a treatment plan to you. Do you treat him? This entry is the third in my pet cancer series, and I’ll break down Vito’s treatment plan, and what factors I weighed to make a decision regarding treatment.
I hope my experience helps you frame everything in your own mind, so if you’re ever faced with these decisions, you’re armed and semi-prepared with the decisions you have to make. Let’s be real – you can never be fully prepared for these things.
Vito’s oncologist is amazing. Dr. Christine Mullin loves animals, with a number of pets of her own. Behind her kind smile is compassion, for you and your pet, and I was so at ease working with her to help Vito. I couldn’t have been more comforted during Vito’s consultation.
Here is the treatment plan she created for Vito:
Treating cancer is not recommended if cancer has metastasized to the lungs. There is not a lot that can be done at that point, and it’s best to make the pet comfortable. We had to make sure Vito’s cancer didn’t spread.
Check to ensure Vito’s levels were healthy before treatment.
The biopsy results from his first surgery indicated that there was likely cancerous cells still in the margins of the tumor. A vet surgeon had to check Vito, and make sure there was enough tissue left in the back of the neck that she could remove the margins and any lymph nodes in the area.
I was surprised to learn that cats react more positively than humans and dogs. There are mild, if any, side effects. After surgery, Vito would need five rounds of chemo, spread three weeks apart. Dr. Mullin said he would likely do very well, and not to fear chemo. His quality of life would still be good, and if he had any side effects, we could manage3 it with meds.
Before deciding to treat a pet, here are a number of things to consider.
To Treat or Not to Treat? Considerations.
Quality of Life
Consider the most likely outcome for your pet, and decide if it’s worth it to you. For a month or two, you may decide to opt to just make him comfortable. If it’s a longer period of time, that is completely on you to decide if it’s worth it. If it isn’t, it’s okay. You know your pet and yourself. If it sounds like it would be endless vet visits and you can’t take off from work very much, and your pet might be sick through treatment … those are all considerations.
How old is your cat? Younger is better, because treatments will take a toll on him. Average lifespan for indoor cats and outdoor cats with a caretaker is 16 years. That doesn’t mean you don’t get your cat treatment if she’s 18, but consider her age in years and personality. If she acts very senior (sleeps a lot, small appetite, etc.), putting her through treatment might not make sense. If she’s 18 but still runs around and plays, it might be a good idea. Ask the oncologist for their opinion, but ALWAYS follow your gut.
You will need full bloodwork, but if your cat has liver or kidney problems (common with older cats), you may not want to move forward with treatment. Other health problems can become exacerbated from more surgeries or chemo. Thyroid problems, significant GI disease, heart issues – these are some chronic problems that could make treatment difficult, and your cat not happy. Again, ask the oncologist if there are extra steps you can take to make sure your cat’s health problems are kept at bay. At the end of the day, rely on your instinct.
An easygoing cat is a great candidate for cancer treatment. A cat with anxiety or aggression might not be a good candidate because going for treatment is stressful. Adding that on top of other problems will create one miserable cat, with a diminished quality of life; however, there are options to add anti-anxiety medication to treatment. You must decide, again, if it’s a good idea for your pet.
My female cat, Dolly, would likely be totally depressed and miserable going through treatment. Change is very difficult for her, and she hides or buries her face and skips meals. When I moved into my home, it took her over a month to adjust. She also has stomach issues off and on. At 12 years old, I would have to seriously consider if surgery and chemo would be worth the toll, because I know she would be very depressed after each treatment.
- Vito was 13 years old when diagnosed with fibrosarcoma.
- Chest x-ray was clear.
- Bloodwork came back perfect.
- No chronic health problems.
- A laid back personality.
It made sense to proceed with treatment!
The vet surgeon checked his neck and was confident she could remove the margins needed. Next step, raise funds for his ridiculously expensive surgery. There are a number of options to do this, so before you write off your ability to pay for treatment, make sure you read my next post!