Cancer in Senior Pets: How to Reduce Symptoms
The dreadful diagnosis of cancer in pets is heartbreaking, and unfortunately, increasingly common–especially in senior pets. As pets age, their risk for chronic disease increases. Cancer is now the leading cause of death in pets. Cancer is not always a death sentence, however, and the earlier the cancer is detected and treated, the better the prognosis. There are conventional oncology treatments for cure or palliation and options for alternative therapies that may help alleviate some symptoms. The overall goal is to allow your senior pet the highest quality of life possible with their cancer diagnosis, which will largely depend on the type of cancer.
Conventional Oncology Treatment
Chemotherapy, immunotherapy, surgery, and radiation are the typical treatments offered to battle cancer. Some worry that these treatments may make their pet feel worse than the cancer alone. In many cases, however, these conventional treatments can decrease the burden on your senior pet. For example, surgical removal of a large tumor in the abdomen can result in feelings of relief as the extra pressure on the internal organs is removed. Most of the time, multiple modes of therapy are used in combination to reduce the cancer burden, thereby reducing symptoms. While it is true that the treatments themselves may cause some symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, and fatigue, there are medications that can be utilized to minimize these side effects. Your senior pet may experience some harder days than others, but combatting the cancer with multi-modal therapy can increase their quality of life.
Sometimes, if conventional treatment is not working or is simply not the best option, alternative therapies could alleviate symptoms. The field of research on alternative therapies for cancer in pets is continually evolving. One alternative therapy, known as metronomics, implements the use of medication to cut off the blood supply to cancer, which thereby causes it to die off. This kind of therapy also stimulates your pet’s own immune response against the cancer. Other alternative therapies take a more holistic approach and focus more on symptom management, like the reduction of pain or increase of appetite, instead of cancer kill. The use of certain herbs like tumeric, acupuncture, or antioxidant-rich foods have resulted in improved quality of life for pets. Studies have shown that the use of certain mushrooms, like turkey tail, may also help battle cancer. Turkey tail contains similar anti-tumor and antioxidant properties compared to some chemotherapies. Reishi mushrooms have also been shown to reduce cancer and tumor burden without the side effects experienced with chemotherapy.
Palliative Care and Hospice
If your senior pet’s cancer diagnosis is at an advanced stage and no longer responds to treatment, there are still some options to alleviate cancer symptoms so that your pup can enjoy the rest of his days. Palliative care focuses on the improvement of quality of life. It does not mean that therapy will be halted, but rather there is a focus on pain management and comfort. Various chemotherapies or immunotherapies can be continued to try to reduce the cancer burden while other medications can be utilized to alleviate symptoms caused by cancer. Hospice care is different in that all treatment to fight the cancer will cease and the focus is on comfort so that your pup can cross the rainbow bridge without pain. We know you do not want your senior pet to suffer, and hospice can be a very humane way to help ease your pup into his terminal diagnosis. There is always something that can be done to make your furry loved one feel better.
Please know that you are not alone in dealing with your senior pet’s cancer diagnosis. The veterinary team at VOSRC is here for you and is happy to answer any questions you may have about alleviating cancer symptoms. Please contact us to learn more about how to reduce your senior pet’s cancer symptoms.