Dr. Kim Freeman, DACVIM Oncology

When pet owners come in and we discuss treatment options for their dog or cat, I often get asked the question: what would you do if your dog had cancer?

Because this choice is so personal and involves so many different factors, I don’t like answering this question directly. I feel it is more fair to give a long list of available options to help owners decide what is right for them and their pets.

There are so many factors that go into making treatment decisions: personal ethics, personal experiences, pet temperament, cost, risk tolerance, etc. These issues can be deeply personal.

What I would do for my dog may be vastly different from what you would do for your dog. It’s better if I give you all the options and you make the decision that feels right in your heart.

Some caregivers want the most aggressive approach to therapy, regardless of whether the prognosis is three months or two years, whether they need to visit the oncologist weekly or monthly, and whatever the cost.

For others, this is not the case. For example, some people feel that giving their pet another 12 to 18 months of good quality time is exciting and gives them hope. Others feel that this is not enough time and not worthwhile. In some situations, pet owners have felt that the extra three weeks or three months they had to spend with their dog or cat were more than they could have hoped for. It’s not the same for everyone.

I would give the world for my dog Matti. And she would let me do anything to her because she trusts that whatever I am doing, I am doing it with her best interest in mind. On the other hand, my cat, Ophelia, is impossible to manage at the vet, and can be, well, opinionated, making any sort of treatment very challenging. So, even I will have difficult decisions to make as my pets age, and those decisions may be different, based on the pet.

My personal feeling is that, as long as the procedures or treatments are not worse than the disease, and if a pet’s quality of life can be improved with therapy, then it makes sense to do it.

For example, lymphoma is a type of cancer that I feel is well worth treating. In dogs, this disease can be very responsive to chemotherapy. The average response to therapy is 12 to 15 months. If my dog could enjoy her life for another 12 to 15 months, I would do anything to make that happen, especially knowing that without treatment, she would only live another 1 to 3 months. The feedback that I get from the owners of most of the dogs I treat for lymphoma, is that their dog feels good to great – more reinforcement that my own dog would have a good chance of doing great, too!

On the other hand, this type of treatment plan wouldn’t be an option for Ophelia. It would stress her out. She hides when I even think about taking her to the clinic. She’s a mind reader! She becomes aggressive in the clinic and won’t take her medications at home, even if they are in flavored treat form. She has pretty much told me that, if she gets sick, she would prefer to be left alone. So, even with my own pets, I wouldn’t always do the same thing.

Have you struggled with the decision about how to treat your dog or cat? Share your experience–or let me know if there are other topics you’d like me to cover in future blog posts by joining me on our Facebook page.