Whether treating a cancer aggressively or providing palliative end-of-life care, make your dog comfortable with pain relievers, therapeutic care and love.
Handling the Diagnosis
Canine cancers can develop and progress at different rates. Your vet should help you understand all of the treatment and care options available to you. Ask about anticipated outcomes associated with procedures like surgery and chemotherapy, and make your care decisions based on what will offer your dog the best quality of life.
If your dog is young, has a treatable form of cancer and you have the appropriate time and resources, you may opt to pursue aggressive treatment options. When your dog has a surgical procedure, after-care may include wound cleaning, changing dressings and administering pain meds and antibiotics. Make your dog physically comfortable with soft, warm bedding and a quiet, safe area in which to recuperate. Your vet may also recommend post-surgical physical therapy exercises and the application of heat or ice to help reduce pain and swelling.
A sling or harness may make it more comfortable for your dog to walk and be lifted after surgery.
Diet and Nutrition
Your dog may have decreased appetite when undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Talk to your vet about establishing a well-balanced nutritional plan that will keep your dog strong and aid in his comfort. Foods that are warmed before serving can be an aromatic trigger to encourage appetite. If your dog becomes dehydrated it could complicate his health issues. Monitor water intake and report decreased levels to your vet. Rehydration IV therapy may be necessary.
If your dog has mobility issues, bring his food and water to him and use raised bowls to make consumption easier.
Some cancer medications must be taken with food, while others have to be consumed on an empty stomach. Read all labels carefully.
At some point, you may decide it’s in your dog’s best interest to discontinue curative treatment in favor of making him physically comfortable through palliative care. Palliative care involves keeping your dog pain free, helping him participate in daily activities he enjoys and can physically tolerate and discontinuing aggressive medical intervention. Your vet will still prescribe medications that provide relief from discomfort and nausea. You may also be able to ease up on dietary restrictions at this time and, instead, allow your pup the treats and foods he most enjoys.
Consider a vet that specializes in hospice, or end-of-life pet care. In some areas, volunteers are available to help you make this time of life peaceful and rewarding for both you and your dog.
When you cease aggressive cancer treatment, your vet should be able to give you an estimated life expectancy for your dog. During this period, spend as much time as possible with your pet, even if it’s only sitting in the same space with him and talking to him or letting him be comfortably part of the household life going on around him.
Watch for signs your pet is in pain, like whining, crying, irritability or an inability to get comfortable. Report them to your vet as soon as possible. An adjustment in medication may be necessary.
There may come a point when your dog can no longer eat or use the bathroom, or where pain medications are no longer effective. Talk to your vet in advance of this time to discuss when euthanasia may be the kindest comfort measure you can offer your dog. You can request to be present for this loving and pain-free procedure if you choose.
Search out pet bereavement groups if you need help and support in dealing with the loss of your pet.