What to Do with The Scary News Your Dog Has Lung Cancer?

There’s no worse word your vet can say to you than “cancer.” Your blood runs cold, you get shivers up your spine, your mind goes blank and you want to run, scream, cry, or a combination of all those things. But hang on. “Cancer” means a great many different things. There are many kinds of cancer that can affect dogs and every situation is unique: your dog’s age, the location of the cancer, the type of cancer, how early it was found, whether it has spread, and most of all the big unknown: how your dog will respond to treatment. And above all, what treatments are already in use and what new ones are emerging.

Do Not Give Up Hope
Do not “throw in the towel” when you hear the “C” word. Before you give in to despair, use your energy to educate yourself about the kind of cancer your dog has been diagnosed with. But do it in hours, not days. Literally! And with the assistance of a specialist, swiftly make the very best decision you can with the resources you have available. There are usually a variety of different ways to handle cancer in dogs, some of them simple and inexpensive. Dogs tend not to suffer or even have discomfort from treatments, which are much less severe and radical and life-threatening than what many human cancer patients undergo, so don’t dismiss the idea of treating the cancer to buy quality time with your dog.

Find a Specialist — a Veterinary Oncologist
I am so fortunate to have Dr. Sue Ettinger as my co-host on our pet talk radio show THE PET CANCER VET. She is a board-certified oncologist and a co-author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, and has a very good blog and website, too. We podcast shows on which we have talked to people whose dogs and cats have cancer. Dr. Sue gives general information about their type of cancer and some of the possible management choices. We do these shows not just for that one person, but for the thousands of people we hope will turn to the show when they get a diagnosis or, by listening, may be able to discover cancer in the very early stages in their own pets, when it is more easily treated.

Lung cancer diagnosed in a German Short-Haired Pointer
I just received this email: “Our 11-year-old GSP was diagnosed this week with lung cancer. She had an ultrasound and aspirate on Wednesday. We are still digesting this information, reading up on it, and figuring out our next steps. Charley is still active and shows no other symptom other than a cough. The cough seems to occur when she is laying down then gets up. She’s eating, playing, and while her blood work and health seems fine we’re not sure whether or not to pursue the route of a CT and surgery. Is there medical therapy that you suggest to continue her quality of life? We will be touching base again with our vet on Monday.”

What Help and Advice Can I Give?
Here’s what I am telling Heather and would tell anyone in her shoes: your own vet can make an initial diagnosis but should immediately do everything possible to help you get a consultation with a board-certified internist (they study oncology too) or a veterinary oncologist (there aren’t many of them). A general practice vet cannot possibly have the most sophisticated diagnostic tools nor the knowledge or capacity to administer the possible treatment options, if you choose them. If you doubt me, here’s a good example why not: if (heaven forbid) preliminary tests showed you had cancer, there is no doubt your general practice doctor would send you immediately to an oncologist. The same should be true for your dog.

Go as far as Necessary to Consult with an Oncologist
Even if you have to go hours away to see a specialist, at least have a first consultation within DAYS of the diagnosis if possible. Time is usually critical for a dog with cancer. You need to hear exactly what the choices and odds are. [If you’re anywhere near Wappingers Falls, NY where Dr. Sue practices, there’s nobody I’d recommend more highly — for cutting-edge knowledge and a healing attitude of hope and compassion. It’s unrealistic for your own vet to try to make this decision with you.

Do NOT begin any Treatment Before a Consultation
You’ll hear on many of our PET CANCER VET shows how often peoples’ own vets give the dog steroids (prednisone) before a thorough diagnosis is done by a specialist — Many times that prednisone will interfere with chemotherapy that can be really effective.

Take Advantage of our Podcast Library!
If you’re interested in the topic of cancer—for any reason—use the search bar that’s on the Pet Cancer Vet [and every show in the Radio Pet Lady Network] This is true on Pet Food Advisors, The Expert Vet and on my flagship show on NPR DOG TALK® (and Kitties, Too!) I’m hopeful that Heather will be ready and able to take the next step for her Pointer after listening to the four lung cancer conversations with Dr. Sue that are in the library.

Wishing Heather’s dog and all our dogs the best of luck — and the best of support and care.

—Tracie Hotchner

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