Nearly 50% of dogs older than 10, and 25% of dogs overall, will develop cancer. This staggering statistic reflects cancer rates in humans, and confirms cancer’s status as a leading cause of death in humans and pets. While cancer eventually claims many pet lives, diagnostics and treatments have evolved to the point that not every diagnosis is an immediate death sentence, contrary to many clients’ perception. 

Because most clients know that cancer treatments for humans can be painful and debilitating, many are unwilling to consider the possibility or expense for their pet, because they believe that doing nothing is the best course of action. As your clients’ trusted veterinarian and friend, you are responsible for correcting them and informing them about advanced treatment options, palliative treatment options, and realistic expected outcomes for their pet’s condition. 

The VESPECON team knows that veterinary oncology consultation can help clients better understand their pet’s diagnosis and make the best decisions about their pet’s care. Here is how oncology consultation can improve your cancer patients’ care.

#1: Obtaining the correct diagnosis

A cancer diagnosis isn’t always easy to pin down, and can sometimes be achieved only with a high degree of suspicion. Consulting with an oncologist ensures you order the correct diagnostics, interpret them correctly, and advise your client on best next steps. If your patient requires advanced imaging or procedures, oncologist or radiologist referral can help you and your client get the answers you need to move forward. For clients who cannot afford advanced diagnostics, an oncologist can provide the next-best treatment options for pets who have suspected cancers but no definitive diagnosis.

#2: Providing clients with options

Once a cancer diagnosis is confirmed, many clients feel that treatment would be futile, and that they should euthanize their pet or let them live out their remaining days. While the choice is ultimately the client’s and more information may not change their wishes, by consulting with an oncologist, you will have the tools you need to educate your client and ensure they understand the treatment options available before they make a final decision. Many clients are unaware of the lesser-known options, such as oral chemotherapy, radiation, or immunotherapy.

#3: Correcting perceptions about pet cancer treatment

Consultation with or referral to a veterinary oncologist can also help change your client’s perceptions about cancer treatments. An oncologist can share success stories, past experiences, and real-life expectations about treatment outcomes, and can explain how human chemotherapy and pet chemotherapy are different. Once clients understand that pet cancer treatment is aimed at improving quality of life and minimizing side effects, rather than focusing on a cure at all costs, as in human medicine, they may be more likely to pursue treatment. 

#4: Providing clients with hope

Clients who hear “cancer” are usually devastated, believing that they may not have much time left with their beloved pet. But, because oncologists are veterinary cancer experts, a consultation can give clients hope. When they hear that remission, a cure, or a few extra high-quality months are possible, many clients feel hopeful and grateful for more time with their pet.

#5: Offering palliative options

For clients who have learned about their pet’s options and discussed them with their families, and decided they will not pursue intensive cancer treatments, an oncologist can provide alternative, palliative options. Rather than allowing pets to decline rapidly, experience pain, or suffer during their last days, palliative care options (e.g., corticosteroids for lymphoma, amputation for osteosarcoma, metronomic chemo protocols) ensure pets maintain a high quality of life during their remaining time. Palliative care discussions also ensure clients know signs to look for, and that they understand when euthanasia may be required.

VESPECON offers virtual consultations with our specialist team, including oncologists, who can collaborate closely to best manage your patient and ensure your client heads down the right treatment path for their pet and their family. Through our video chat platform, our team can provide face-to-face, personal discussions about your cases, walk you through ordering and interpreting diagnostics, help with staging, and ensure clients understand their options.

If you have a patient who would benefit from specialized cancer treatments, our VESPECON team will coordinate in-person referral to a local oncologist, who can take over the case and provide ongoing, collaborative care. Visit our website to learn more about our consulting and referral services, or contact us to sign up.