Locally-Owned in Oakdale and St. Paul, Minnesota

Common Types of Cancer in Pets | Part II: Making Difficult Decisions

Read Part I to learn about how your veterinary team diagnoses your pet’s cancer. In October of 2023, Dr. Keepman, one of our board-certified veterinary oncologists, joined us on Facebook Live to discuss common types of cancer in pets and treatment options. You can watch the replay of the video here for more in-depth information or review a thorough summary below.

 

After your pet has received a cancer diagnosis, your family veterinarian or veterinary oncologist will discuss options with you. At Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, our Oncology Service’s main goal is always to promote your pet’s quality of life. For this reason, we offer a variety of treatment and management options, as well as hospice and end-of-life guidance. We want pet parents to be educated in all aspects of their pet’s cancer to make well-informed decisions.  

Gloved hands preparing chemotherapy protocols underneath hood; next photo is a dog lying on a blanket in an exam room while receiving chemotherapy; veterinary oncology, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

Treatment Options 

Your veterinary team will review all treatment options with you, as well as different protocols, potential side effects, and what to expect with each option. Whichever treatment plan you choose, know that it can always be adjusted. Depending on your pet’s cancer diagnosis, common treatment options include chemotherapy, medication, radiation therapy, and/or surgery. 

A dog wearing a black graduation hat with a yellow tassel next to a sign that says "I graduated chemotherapy"; veterinary oncology, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

Understanding Chemotherapy 

Veterinary chemotherapy is different than human medicine. In human medicine, humans are given larger doses to cure them. Humans recognize they may feel sick in the short-term and can give consent. Our pets cannot give consent, nor can we explain side effects to them.  

Instead, we give pets chemotherapy in lower doses to reduce the risk and severity of side effects. While pets rarely have side effects, pet parents should notify their veterinary team of any changes in behavior or habits so the team can determine if adjustments such as reducing a dose, postponing treatment, or changing protocols are needed. 

A veterinary surgeon room with two surgeons operating at a surgery table with tools in front of them; veterinary oncology, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

Treatments for Common Types of Cancer in Pets  

Below is a review of the most common types of cancer in pets and the typical recommended treatment. However, please note that the typical plan will not be appropriate for every pet. Thoroughly discuss all options, as well as questions and concerns, with your pet’s veterinary team.  

  • Lymphoma (A systemic disease and cancer of white blood cells) 
    • Lymphoma is difficult to cure. The main goal is to manage it and put it into remission for as long as possible. 
    • Chemotherapy combined with steroids is typically the treatment of choice for dogs.
      • About 85-90% of dogs respond favorably to chemotherapy. 
      • Protocols often involve treatments every 3 weeks. 
  • Mast Cell (A more localized disease with a skin or subcutaneous mass) 
    • These tumors still have the chance of spreading (metastasizing) to other parts of the body, but if they are localized to one region, surgical removal is the best treatment choice. Once the tumor is surgically removed, it is sent to a pathologist to determine the tumor grade. 
      • For low-grade tumors in dogs, surgery alone can be curative. 
      • For mast cell tumors that have spread, a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy should be considered to try to kill as many cancer cells as possible. 
  • Osteosarcoma (Common cancer of bones – commonly seen on one of the limbs) 
    • Unfortunately, these tumors act aggressively, and they have a high risk of spreading.  
    • Amputation of the affected limb is the best treatment option to remove the source of pain and the bulk of the tumor.  
    • Often, osteosarcoma can affect the lungs, so chemotherapy is recommended after surgery to slow down further progression of the disease. 
    • A note on amputation: We understand this is an emotional choice to make. Know that our surgeons will examine pets before the procedure to ensure they are a suitable surgical candidate. Most dogs adjust very well to life with only three limbs – they can still run and play! It will take a few days or weeks to adjust, but your dog will feel so much better without that source of pain.  

A veterinary technician in full PPE leaning into a dog who wants pets during chemotherapy in an exam room; veterinary oncology, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

Prognosis 

There are many factors that play a role when a veterinarian determines a pet’s prognosis. Imaging results may show if a cancer has spread, and histopathology reports, physical exams, diagnostic tests, and the selected treatment plan are all considered. Additionally, providing a prognosis can be challenging since every individual pet responds differently to treatment. Your pet’s veterinary team will provide the most accurate prognosis they can based on your pet’s specific situation and any study data 

Euthanasia 

You can give your pet the most peaceful passing by considering in advance how you will know when it’s time to choose euthanasia. This way, you can make clearer, more rational decisions regarding your pet’s quality of life. Your pet’s veterinary team can talk you through your pet’s specific prognosis and expectations, but you can also utilize tools and resources such as the Five Favorite Things Rule” and a Quality of Life Scale to help you better recognize and prepare for when it may be time to consider end-of-life care. You can learn more about making this choice here 

Navigating your pet’s cancer can be scary and overwhelming but know that you don’t have to make decisions alone. With guidance from your pet’s veterinary team, you can make informed decisions to give your pet the best quality of life.  

A veterinary technician with a dog in red bandana that reads "Tech don't let pets fight cancer alone" and a photo of a group of veterinary technicians and Dr. Keepman, a veterinary oncologist, surrounding a dog in a graduation cap in front of a banner that reads "I'm Kicking Cancer's Tail"; veterinary oncology, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s symptoms, cancer diagnosis, treatment options, or hospice care, always talk to your family veterinarian. You can also ask your family veterinarian for a referral to our Oncology Service to meet with one of our board-certified veterinary oncologists. You can call (651) 501-3766 to set up an appointment. 

Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, Fast Track Triage, color-coded triage system, pet emergency, Twin Cities emergency vet, Minnesota emergency vet, Saint Paul emergency vet, Oakdale emergency vet

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