Caring For a Dog With Cancer

Caring for a dog with cancer is one of the most unselfish and loving things a human can do for their pet.

After working with the owners of hundreds of dogs with cancer, Dr. Kathy Mitchener, a Veterinary Oncologist, has identified three commandments of Cancer Care that are essential in maintaining the quality of life and the all-important human-animal bond. These three commandments can help build a feeling of hope for both you and your dog.

Commandment Number One: Do Not Let Your Dog Hurt

Comprehensive pain management is critical to the quality and longevity of life for dogs with cancer. Research has shown that once an animal is in pain, the pain response magnifies and the animal will suffer more. The goal is to prevent pain, not try to lessen it once it occurs. Local anesthesia sometimes proves to be helpful in dogs that have localized pain.

Pain-relieving medications like Fentanyl patches can be applied to your dog’s skin and they will slowly release their active pain killing ingredient. Oral pain relievers can also help, especially if your dog’s pain is mild. If your dog needs to undergo surgery, the pain medication should be started while it is still anesthetized, so when it wakes up the pain reliever is already working.

The proper care of a dog with cancer will help in managing its pain. Handle your dog gently and use an orthopedic bed or similar device to make your dog more comfortable and decrease its risk of painful secondary problems such as “bed sores.”

Commandment Number Two: Do Not Let Your Dog Vomit

Unlike humans, nausea and vomiting are not normal for dogs who are undergoing a treatment of chemotherapy. However, if your dog becomes nauseous and/or begins to vomit, it is vitally important that you manage the problem as quickly as possible. Vomiting dogs can quickly become dehydrated and develop electrolyte imbalances. Nauseated and vomiting dogs also will generally not eat, which brings us to the Third Commandment.

Commandment Three: Do Not Let Your Dog Starve

This is perhaps the most vital of all the Commandments. If a dog will not eat, but has a functioning digestive tract, the first step is to try to increase its appetite. Feed it good tasting food that has delicious aromas to tantalize your dog’s sense of smell. Try warming up the food to enhance your dog’s appetite.
Your dog’s diet will need to be tailored specifically for it. A proper and correct diet will limit your dog’s weight loss. The right diet will also improve your dog’s response to chemotherapy and decrease the adverse effects of radiation therapy. Your dog’s diet should limit the amount of simple carbohydrates and contain moderate amounts of highly digestible protein, and moderate to relatively high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

In caring for a dog with cancer, the medical management of the cancer is only one part of the objective. The emotional needs of your dog need to be met if you wish to succeed in providing the quality of life it wants and deserves. Spending as much time with your pet during this ordeal should be a priority, and simple petting and talking to your dog will strengthen the bond between you and may do wonders in prolonging your pet’s life.