When your pet is diagnosed with cancer, they have a team to help them: your veterinarian, your veterinary oncologist, and you.
Much like the human medical profession, the veterinary field has many specialists – there are veterinarians who focus on cardiology, neurology, oncology, radiology, ophthalmology, and even pet nutrition. The veterinarian at your clinic will usually focus on small animals like cats and dogs, as opposed to large animal veterinarians who focus on horses, cattle, and sheep. It is important to understand that your local veterinarian, while able to recognize the signs and symptoms of diseases like cancer, may not be able to fully diagnose or treat your pet’s specific condition. But they are still an integral part of the team when it comes to fighting cancer.
Cancer treatment is far more effective when started in the earlier stages, so it’s vital to get an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible. Your veterinarian can provide a referral to a veterinary oncologist who has the equipment and professional expertise to diagnose and treat your pet. Or you can contact an oncologist directly – the Veterinary Cancer Society has a searchable database of members to help you find an oncologist nearby. If there are no veterinary oncologists near you, internal medicine specialty centers often deal with cancer cases, and some radiology clinics can board pets during their course of treatment. If those options don’t exist, your local veterinary clinic may be able to provide some level of basic cancer care.
Most oncologists will want to set up an initial consultation which can involve a physical exam, taking tissue and blood samples for a biopsy, and/or performing high resolution scans to examine the aggression of the tumor throughout the body. Using this information, as well as input provided by you and your veterinarian, your oncologist can make a proper diagnosis. Depending on the clinic, they will usually schedule a follow up exam to discuss the prognosis and treatment options for your pet. Your oncologist will want to include your veterinarian as well – this way your pet will be able to receive the best possible care.
Throughout this entire process, your veterinarian and your oncologist will work together with you to provide the best possible path to recovery. While you are your pet’s primary champion, it doesn’t mean you are in it alone. Your veterinarian provides general health guidance and supplies medical records, while your oncologist typically serves as the diagnostic expert and treatment provider.
Ultimately, you are going to be the best advocate for your pet. Be sure to have an open discussion with your oncologist and your veterinarian about your companion animal’s quality of life, likelihood of responding to treatment, as well as any financial and logistical challenges you may be facing. If you are not comfortable with their initial recommendations, don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion. It is important to play an active role to ensure your companion gets the care it needs.
American Veterinary Medical Association – https://www.avma.org/public/YourVet/Pages/veterinary-specialists.aspx
Veterinary Cancer Society – http://www.vetcancersociety.org/pet-owners/frequently-asked-questions/