Caring for a Dog With Cancer

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Dog cancer doesn't need to be an immediate death sentence. A dog's quality of life can be sustained for a while. Here are some ideas about caring for a dog that has cancer.

More and more dogs are being diagnosed with cancer these days, just as in the human world. 

And just like human treatments, dogs can be given chemotherapy, have surgery, or given various medications to slow down the growth of the cancer cells, depending on the type.
    
If your veterinarian says you may opt for chemotherapy, get all the facts before making your decision.  Sometimes chemo only keeps the animal alive for an extra month or so, and though they don't have the horrendous side effects that humans suffer, it can still be a grueling experience for your pet.  If you love him and want to take the chance that the chemo will work, by all means, give it a try.  If your dog seems to improve with the therapy, or you don't notice a difference, continue on.  
    
The dog's value of life should be the most important decision on your health care decision.  Most dogs receiving chemotherapy visit the veterinarian once a week for treatment.  Periodically, X-rays are taken where possible to see if the therapy is helping.  Many tumors can be shrunk with chemotherapy, with results noted after a month.  Chemotherapy can be very expensive, and it is a big step to take.
    
Veterinarians will discuss the dog's prognosis with the owner, and give them a time limit to see if the chemotherapy appears to be working – usually about six weeks.  If it is helping, the owner should continue, keeping in mind that it is only a temporary solution and eventually cancer will win.
    
When nothing can be done medically for cancer, but the dog is not showing signs of discomfort, doctors will advise owners about what to look for regarding how long the dog should be kept alive.  Some can go for months showing no effects.  Depending on the location of the disease, some may become incontinent, with no control over their bladder or bowel, but otherwise seeming to be fine.  In this instance, the owner needs to decide if he wants to take care of the cleanup after the dog messes.  If he truly loves the dog and is willing to make the sacrifice, by all means, he should keep his pet with him until the end.
    
When the time draws near, the dog may become uncomfortable, or have a bit of pain.  If cancer is in the leg, for instance, the leg can be removed, but cancer will most likely spread to the rest of the body.  The dog may be fine for a while, but begin to show signs of stress.  Some pain medications may work, but the owner must realize eventually they won't work much longer.  In some dog cancers, the final months will find them bleeding from skin tumors, or from mouth sores or inside ear canals.  If you have small children, this might not be good for them – either to witness or to be in contact with the blood.  The blood is not contaminated by cancer, of course, but it isn't something you want your small children involved with.

Spend the final days with your dog keeping it as comfortable as possible.  If it's an outdoor dog, bringing it inside and keeping it warm on a soft bed will help.  If it's your household pet, snuggle with it as long as it's feasible, showing your love and devotion.
    
When the pain becomes too unbearable for your pet to handle, or when its quality of life is gone, you must make the decision to have it humanely euthanized.  It is a heartbreaking decision, but one that must be made for the sake of your pet.  
    
If you can't be in the examining room with your dog when it is getting its final shot, maybe a family member can take it for you.  It's best to have someone familiar with the dog cradling it in its final moments so it won't be scared when the needle is inserted.  Vet techs are caring, but it isn't the same as a family member.  Plus you will have the assurance that the dog died peacefully and at rest.
    
Until the time comes, follow your veterinarian's instructions to the letter.  Love your pet, give it your full attention, and make sure it's comfortable in its final days.  Dog cancer doesn't need to be an immediate death sentence.  Their quality of life can be sustained for a year or so, depending on the type and longevity of cancer.  This is why regular checkups are a must, both at home and at the vets.  Feel your animal regularly for bumps or lumps; and if they begin to act listless, don't wait until the last minute to find out why.