Cancer treatment in dogs is much as you would expect in humans, a mixture of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. Some cancers in dogs respond very well to chemotherapy – lymphomas, for example – and a complete remission can be expected. Chemotherapy is not as unpleasant for a dog as it is for a person and it is unusual for a dog to lose its coat. The chemotherapy only affects fast growing hair and a dog’s coat is very slow growing (which is why it never gets too long) but the whiskers grow and replace themselves quickly, so the dog may lose a few of those.
Where the tumour is a finite one, which can be removed, this is the obvious method and many quite radical operations are carried out routinely. If the dog is suffering from osteosarcoma, the tumour can be excised by amputation quite often and most dogs manage well with a missing limb. Skin cancers and bone cancers often affect the toes and feet and this amputation is very simple. If the mouth is involved it is possible to remove part of the jaw and as long as the animal’s quality of life is still reasonable, there is no reason why these radical surgeries should not be carried out. Mammary cancers are also easy to treat surgically and as they are so obvious generally they are detected early. Surgery is often considered in dogs which would not be possible in humans because although it is obviously important to remove tumours in humans it is important to consider the psychological outcomes of very radical surgery which changes the appearance and this is less true of dogs.
Lymphomas and Haemangiosarcomas
The above and other cancers without a discrete tumour which can be removed surgically must be treated with chemotherapy. Lymphomas respond very well and are considered treatable. Haemangiosarcomas, which develop in the lining of the blood vessels can be treated palliatively with drugs but can really be seen as incurable. This is mainly because they are largely asymptomatic in the early stages and are also very prone to metastasising so by the time the animal is becoming ill the tumours have spread widely. Brain tumours are also largely treated with drugs but radiotherapy is also a popular choice, although not always available of course. Owners living near veterinary schools or large surgeries are more likely to be able to take advantage of this kind of treatment for their pet.
Treating Skin Cancers
Skin cancer is very common in dogs and is usually treated surgically and as long as it is not invasive – such as malignant melanoma – recovery rates are usually quite good. Pale dogs with thin hair are very prone and if sun block is used particularly on the ears and thinner areas of coat, the incidence of skin cancer can be reduced a lot. It can be a messy job but it is worth it in the end because the dog may have to have his ears removed and large patches of skin, which can be very painful while it heals. There are not many cancers which can be prevented so relatively easily, so if the dog doesn’t really hate it, it is a good idea.
Before any treatment is begun, the prognosis must be discussed with your vet. Many cancers in dogs tend to occur in older animals and it may be that they have an underlying other more chronic condition that will make the treatment very wearing for both them and the owner. In this case, euthanasia may be kinder. But many cancers in dogs can be treated to give at least a prolongation of life and is therefore worthwhile. What must be remembered is that much of the cancer process in a person is the fear of both the disease and the unknown; this is not an issue with a dog and although it may have pain post surgery or caused by secondaries it will not be worried by the diagnosis and so the whole cancer experience is much easier to bear. It is often the owner who needs the most support at a difficult time.
Whilst following a special diet cannot be considered an alternative to other treatments, adding vitamins and making sure that the diet is healthy is good practice as it means that the dog will be healthier in himself and more able to fight the malignancy. Dogs do not suffer very often from bowel cancer, so fibre is not important in that sense, but a good balanced diet can certainly lengthen life and will make the dog feel better all round. Feeding a good diet is only common sense anyway and a well nourished dog will be less likely to have complications after surgery such as infections and chest problems which may be seen in obese or malnourished animals.
There has never been any concrete proof that homeopathic treatments work and so trying them is a matter of personal beliefs. There are many people who swear by them and if all else is failing, then they can do no harm. Most of the homeopathic mixtures have such a tiny percentage of any active ingredient in them that they are harmless because they are mostly water. There are homeopathic practitioners for pets and they can be found in most large towns.
Yearly Checks for Cancer
Most vets nowadays are happy to do a check up on your dog on a yearly basis, especially as he gets older. With rates of cancer in dogs running at 25%, it is certainly well worth keeping an eye on your pet to make sure he is in good health.