Helping More Pets With Cancer Get Treatment
By Sue Ettinger, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
The Center for Cancer Research estimates approximately 6 million dogs and a similar number of cats are diagnosed with cancer each year. Veterinary teams are managing pets with cancer and talking to pet owners about treatment. It takes special insight to deliver the bad news to clients and help them understand what options are available. Sue Ettinger, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology) answered some questions about how to talk to clients as they pursue the best care and quality of life for their pets.
Q. You often remind us “cancer is not a death sentence.” What do we need to remember when we have to tell a client their pet has cancer?
The cancer diagnosis is typically made by the primary care veterinarian, who may have the most difficult job of breaking the bad news. Primary care veterinarians often have a relationship with the client, which can be helpful during challenging conversations. It’s still not easy. Clients may be overwhelmed and feel guilty, anxious or fearful. They may feel uneasy with death and dying, depressed at the thought of losing
a beloved pet, and concerned about their pet’s quality of life (QOL). They may also be worried about cost and the time required to treat their pet’s cancer effectively. You and your team may feel uncomfortable talking about cancer and death, have limited time, or worry about the pet's QOL. It’s important to be aware of everyone’s perspective and discuss concerns.
Q. When you talk to your clients about quality of life, what do you emphasize?
I like to say live longer, live well. It’s important to remind pet owners that QOL is one thing we’re striving for, and it varies from family to family and pet to pet. I recommend pet owners make a list of the top 5 things their pet likes to do. I ask them to create the list early on but remind them it might change. For example, it might start with “walks 2 miles a day,” and later becomes “walks to the end of the block.” For many pets, it may simply be eating or enjoying their food. For others, it’s greeting them at the door. The list is a way to look at quality of life. As it's re-evaluated, things may fall off the list and signal QOL is changing.
Q. How do you help owners prepare for and manage the cost of cancer treatment as a chronic condition?
Managing a pet with cancer can be expensive. Whether it’s surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, costs can add up. That’s why a lot of clients want a payment or financing solution to help them pay over time for those significantly expensive costs, from diagnosis and treatment to surgery and chemotherapy.
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