Maybe you have noticed that your cat, Samson, has been looking more unkempt lately. Maybe he looks thinner and has not emptied his food dish for the past few weeks. Deep down you are worried that he is very sick. When you finally convince yourself that Samson is not going to get better on his own, you take him to your veterinarian. You are dreading what he/she has to say. Sadly, your worst fears come to life when the doctor tells you that there is an abnormal mass on the chest x-ray. Samson, the cat you rescued as a tiny kitten twelve years ago, has cancer.
Is this the end of the road for Samson? Not necessarily. Some types of cancer are curable with surgery or medicine; and other types are highly responsive to chemotherapy and can put a pet into remission for several months. However, what if you do not want your elderly pet to undergo surgery or chemotherapy? What if these modalities are not economically feasible? What if this particular cancer cannot be surgically or medically treated? Is there anything else your veterinarian can do for Samson?
Fortunately, the answer is yes. There is care beyond a clinical cure for cancer patients. This type of care involves keeping your pet pain-free and minimizing the symptoms of their disease so that they can enjoy life as comfortably as possible.
As an owner of a pet with cancer or other terminal disease, the following guidelines should be adhered to:
Samson should never hurt. Samson, being a cat, may never tell you if he is feeling uncomfortable or hurting. It is our responsibility to assume that any illness generally has some degree of discomfort. For this reason, consult with your veterinarian about pain medication on the same day he is diagnosed and consider starting him on this medication immediately, even if you do not think he is painful.
Samson should never starve. Cats, in particular, and some dogs will stop eating when they are not feeling well. Encourage them to eat by offering their favorite food. Vitamin supplements, obtained from your veterinarian, should be given to those pets that are eating homemade diets, so that they have complete nutrition. Appetite stimulants are also available from your veterinarian. These stimulants can turn an anorexic pet into one that eats again.
Samson should not have stomach upset. Stomach and intestinal upset is never fun whether you are a human, cat, or dog. The good news is that your pet does not have to suffer from unnecessary gastrointestinal upset. Speak to your veterinarian about keeping a small supply of anti-nausea and diarrhea medication on hand for you to give to your pet immediately if they should start to show signs of stomach upset.
No one wants to hear that their beloved companion has a terminal illness. However, knowledge is power. As pet owners, if we can eliminate or minimize our pet’s discomfort and prolong their contentedness, then shouldn’t we? By following the guidelines above and by working with your veterinarian, we can help to keep our loved ones as comfortable and happy as possible. After all, they deserve it.
Dr. Downing has been a general practitioner and emergency veterinarian at the Valley Cottage Animal Hospital since 2005. As a co-owner of the hospital, Dr. Downing oversees the emergency side of the practice. Dr. Jessica Downing grew up in upstate New York. She completed her veterinary education at the New York State Veterinary College at Cornell University and was awarded her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 2004. Dr. Downing’s professional interests include emergency medicine, ultrasonography and surgery.
By: Jessica E. Downing, DVM