Cancer in Dogs was never a post that I imagined I’d write. When our dog was diagnosed with canine lymphoma, my head just spun. I consider myself a pretty darn good researcher and Googler, but the thought of losing our baby made my mind discombobulate, so I really wasn’t sure what to do next or what to search for.
If you’re reading this, you’re in the same boat. You’re trying to figure out what to do when your dog has cancer. First, know that I unfortunately have an idea of what you’re going through, and I’m sending good thoughts and strength your way!
Second, take a deep breath. You’re about to become an information vacuum about cancer in dogs over the next 48 hours in order to get your baby the treatment that s/he needs as soon as possible.
If your dog has been diagnosed with canine cancer (or specifically canine lymphoma), the following steps will help you get started in dealing with your dog’s cancer diagnosis. You might want to set an estimated amount of time for how long you can spend on each of the steps below. Why? When you’re not in your “normal” emotional state, you might get caught up in trying to find the absolutely perfect option, or you might feel that things are so busy at work or with the kids that you’ll research later when you get the chance to sit down. Either way, you might lose track of time and not get the information that you need as soon as you really need it. Depending on the type and stage of cancer that your dog has, you may not have weeks or even days to cull through the millions of pages of documents that are on the internet.
If you’re the type of learner who likes a study guide and wants to know the big picture before you start diving into the details, consider printing off the dog cancer treatment questions list that I have under Step 11 so that you can add questions to it as you research.
Wondering what to do when your dog has cancer? In hindsight, the following is how I wished I’d proceeded when Hildy was diagnosed with Stage 3 Canine Lymphoma Cancer:
Step 1 – Research canine oncologists in your area. (ideally: within 24 hours of diagnosis)
Even if your veterinarian has given you a referral or suggestions, you’ll want to research your options. You can also do a search for board-certified canine oncologists here. (Note: As of this writing, out of the three search boxes listed, only type in your city (don’t choose options in the other boxes), otherwise it comes up with no results.) Or you can Google “canine oncologist + your city”. If there isn’t an office close to you, research nearby larger metropolitan areas and either prepare for a drive or ask if they’ll do phone consultations using the lab work from your vet. Both of our choices were one hour and fifteen minutes away, in different directions. Since they had equal reviews, I chose the one that was closest to the locations of the majority of my clients. (I spend my weekdays doing time management consulting in their homes or offices, so this would mean less time in the car and more time for puppy-spoiling at home.)
Step 2 – Make an appointment with a canine oncologist. (ideally: within 24 hours of diagnosis)
In the San Antonio metro area (which has a population of nearly 2 million), there are only two canine oncologist centers. Needless to say, we weren’t able to get a same day or even next day appointment. That’s why you need to schedule immediately. The first available opening for us was one week out. Seven days without cancer treatment is an eternity. Ask 1) what you need to bring and 2) what all will be done so that you’re ready for your appointment. If you decide to go the holistic route, you can always cancel your oncologist appointment.
Step 3 – Research naturopathic or holistic veterinarians in your area. (ideally: within 24 hours of diagnosis)
I didn’t even know that this option existed! If I had, I would’ve called sooner instead of waiting three days after diagnosis. Many veterinarians say that they believe in a natural approach, but you want a vet who has studied this specialty. You can search the website of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association to find your nearest choice. (Note: Even if you have an enormous dog, you’ll want to search under “small animal”.)
Step 4 – Make an appointment with a naturopathic or holistic veterinarian. (ideally: within 24 hours of diagnosis)
The first holistic vet who I called had a ten-day wait. I went back to my search list and called vet number two. There are only three “official” holistic vets in our area, so bookings are at a premium. Ask 1) what you need to bring and 2) what all will be done. If you decide to go the chemo route, you can always cancel your holistic appointment.
Step 5 – Research your dog’s condition and treatment options. (ideally: within 24-48 hours of diagnosis)
When you find out that your dog has cancer, chances are that you weren’t expecting it, so you have no idea what questions to ask when you’re standing in your vet’s office, gaping with shock. The internet has more than 50 million articles on canine cancer. It can be overwhelming. While it’s important to get as educated as possible, you don’t have weeks to complete this initial education; you have days at most if your dog is in a more advanced stage. To save you time, the following are the websites that I found most helpful in explaining to me what was happening with our baby and what our options were:
Downloads and an e-book about holistic treatment. I realized from the get-go that there was no way to consume all of this info in a short amount of time, but scrolling through the resources and ebook quickly helped me to create questions for Hildy’s next appointment. You initially pay $1 for everything and will be charged $47 at the end of the month. Now I have the chance to go back and re-read it and decide which ideas we’ll use and which we won’t.
Step 6 – Make a decision about your dog’s treatment option. (ideally: ASAP)
Our regular vet sent me home with Prednisone for Hildy to hold her over until I could get her into an oncologist. According to my research, however, I learned that Prednisone can actually counteract chemo treatments if it’s taken for a week or more before chemotherapy begins. Since our oncologist appointment was one week away, if we decided to go with chemo, we might hurt Hildy’s survival chances if we put her on Prednisone during the entire waiting period.
Step 7 – Confirm or cancel your appointment(s) based on your treatment decision.
(out of fairness to the veterinarians – and fellow pet owners who like you are also frantically searching for appointments – at least 48 hours’ cancellation notice would be nice)
Cancellation – This is easy. Simply call and cancel.
Confirmations – Ask again: 1) what you need to bring and 2) what all will be done. I learned that I needed to forward all of Hildy’s lab work to the new vet’s office. I also learned that at the oncologist’s office I’d scheduled with, they only did a “consult” for the first appointment. I asked what that meant and was told that the oncologist would review my vet’s paperwork with me and do an initial physical exam. When I asked how much I should budget for treatment, I was told that the only way to know exactly what the treatment would be was to order various lab work, and that would be scheduled during the consult. I let the receptionist know (much more diplomatically than I’m doing here) that I wasn’t going to take off work and drive over an hour each way just to get a re-hash of what I already knew. I added on all of the lab work to the scheduled appointment.
If at this point you’re unsure about which treatment route to take, keep both appointments and make your decision after conferring with both veterinarians.
Step 8 – Track your dog’s status. (ideally: from the moment of diagnosis)
I positioned this step after the appointment-making steps because while data collecting is important, you can always jog your memory and back-fill the data for the past couple of days. But what you can’t do is travel back in time and call days earlier for an appointment. So, now that you’ve got your appointment set, you’ll want to track your dog’s status (notes about activity level, stool/urine, eating, supplements, meds, etc.) so that you walk into your next appointment with it. You can download and use this tracking form here if you’d like.
Step 9 – Do some research about canine cancer diets. (ideally: within 48 hours of diagnosis)
I wasn’t kidding when I said there’d be a lot going on at one time, right?! After the initial diagnosis, our regular vet told me to get Hildy started on puppy food so that she’d get the maximum amount of protein in what little she was eating. On my way home that day, I called my husband and asked him to pick up some Puppy Chow on the way home from work. As I later went down all sorts of rabbit holes while researching, I stumbled upon articles about the importance of diet.
Step 10 – Request your pet’s medical records from your vet. (at least 24 hours prior to your appointment with the specialist)
The receptionist at our regular vet’s office has worked there since we started going 17 years ago. She’s watched Hildy grow up since we adopted her nearly 13 years ago. So when I called to request the records for the specialist, she knew exactly who I was and how important this task was, so it took a short amount of time for the last five years of Hildy’s records to land in my email inbox. (Thank you, Susan!) You may or may not have this easy a time requesting records. Allow at least 24 hours just in case. Have the records sent to you (as opposed to the next vet) so that you have them on hand to share with any specialist you might end up seeing.
Step 11 – Walk into your next appointment with a list of questions.
Download this Dog Cancer Treatment Questions list. I’ve left in Word so that you can modify as necessary.
Step 12 – Create a chart of medications. (ideally: as soon as you get home from the vet and sort out your bag of meds or supplements)
Whether you have two or ten drugs and/or supplements, it can be hard to remember which to give and when. A chart will make it clear to your entire household which meds at which dosage need to be given at which time of day. Additionally, consider labeling the tops of the med bottles using a Sharpie marker. Even with my glasses on, it is hard to read the drug names and instructions that are on the original labels. If you’d like a dog cancer treatment medications chart to print out, download it here.
Step 13 – Love your baby.
It seems silly to mention this because of course you love your fur baby – otherwise you wouldn’t have found this article and read it. But sometimes we get caught up with life – work, kids’ activities, the bills – and we don’t leave time for the most important people (and pets) in our lives. If you need to, schedule “dog love time” on your calendar to make sure that it happens.
Whoa. I told you there was a ton of info out there! But this will at least give you a start on your education so that you can ask the questions that you need to when you go to your vet or dog cancer specialist.
If you want to do some additional research, I’ll list the websites that I’ve found to be informative, but I didn’t need to have this information in my head for Hildy’s first post-diagnosis appointment:
Forums like this one on PetMD can be helpful because you can feel like you’re part of a virtual community, but just like social media, you might end up spending too much time on there if you’re not careful!
If you’re considering using essential oils, read this article.
As I find any more articles about cancer in dogs that might be helpful – or at least will get you to think about something that you haven’t yet – I’ll be sure to update this list.
I wish you and your pup much love and strength in your journey!
If you’d like to find out about Hildy’s progress, you can read about that here.