Cancer Diagnosis: First Steps

If you have just found out that your dog has cancer, don’t give up hope. There are steps that you can begin taking today to help improve your canine companion’s chances of survival and maintain their quality of life. The choices you have to make will not always be easy, and there will be bumps along the way. But with courage and dedication, you can give your devoted friend a fighting chance against this disease.

Step 1: Take a Deep Breath

It's hard not to feel a strong sense of panic when you find out that your faithful companion and friend has been diagnosed with cancer. Despite improvements in treatment options for humans and animals, cancer arguably remains the most frightening word in the English language. And, it doesn’t matter if the dog is two years old or fourteen – no dedicated pet owner ever wants to face their companion’s mortality. When forced to deal with a cancer diagnosis, it is normal to feel fear, anger, confusion, and often, some guilt.

Give yourself the chance to deal with these emotions (preferably out of sight of your dog). Cry, scream, rant, punch a pillow or do whatever you need to do to vent. Then, take a deep breath and prepare your mind for battle. Your dog will need every ounce of your strength and courage as you begin the journey through cancer together.

Step 2: Educate Yourself

There are many types of cancer that affect our canine companions, although lymphoma is the form that I and many other pet owners are most familiar with, as it is one of the most common. For each type of cancer there are different symptoms, treatments and expected outcomes. Make no mistake…knowledge IS power when it comes to learning about your dog’s particular type of cancer. Not only will educating yourself about cancer help to relieve it of some of its mystery, which just adds to the anxiety, but it also will help you in assembling your treatment team and to ensure that you know what questions to ask throughout the treatment process. It can also be helpful in creating realistic expectations about treatment side effects and life expectancy, although it is very important to remember that every dog is different and may respond to treatment differently. By being an educated pet owner, you will feel a greater sense of control over the situation and be able to have better judgment when it comes time to make the decisions involved in your dog’s cancer treatment.

Step 3: Assemble a Strong Team

Now, more than ever, it’s important that you assemble a strong team to support you and your dog during this battle against cancer. Ideally, this team will consist of your regular veterinarian, who is most familiar with your dog’s medical history, a veterinary oncologist, who specializes in treating cancer in animals, and a holistic veterinarian, who can provide important information about nutrition, supplements and other alternative treatments that may be beneficial for your dog. Another key component of your team should be close friends, family or other pet owners who have experienced canine cancer. You’ll find their emotional support, encouragement and understanding to be critical along the way.

No matter who is on your cancer treatment team, it is important that you trust the people you’re working with and that they are willing to listen to your concerns and answer any and all questions that you have. It is also important to make sure that information is shared between all parties so everyone on your team is aware of your dog’s most current medical information, including any secondary conditions, or medications or supplements that your dog is taking. You should also make sure that you are working with professionals who value your opinions and who support your decisions regarding treatment. Ultimately, your dog is counting on you to make decisions that are in her best interest. Now is not the time to passively accept whatever you are told, or to submit to any tests without question. You have an obligation to your companion to be an active part of the cancer treatment team. Step 4: Modify Diet & Environment

Studies have shown that cancer pups do best on a diet that is low in carbohydrates, high in Omega 3 fatty acids (such as fish oil) and with moderate levels of protein. Many opinions can be found about the best way to achieve this diet. You’ll find suggestions for raw diets, home cooked, prescription and commercial. Which one is best? It really depends on your philosophy, budget, time constraints and…your dog.

While your dog is battling cancer, it is especially important to protect them from exposure to chemicals as much as possible. While it is important to do throughout their life, it becomes essential after they have been diagnosed with cancer. Every ounce of your dog’s energy should be devoted to fighting the cancer in her body. Chemicals distract the body from this natural healing process and weaken the body’s defenses. Below is a list of ways that you can begin the process of detoxifying your dog’s environment.

Tips for Detoxifying Your Dog's Life

• Only give your dog filtered water, if you’re not already.

• Do NOT allow your dog to receive any vaccinations while being treated for cancer.

• Do not use pesticides of fertilizers on your lawn.

• ALWAYS wipe your dog’s paws off after being outside to prevent them from spreading or licking off any chemical residue from sidewalks, streets and grassy areas.

• Provide organic meats and vegetables whenever possible.

• Eliminate or reduce your dog’s exposure to flea and tick medications. Choose a natural alternative if possible.

• Do not use harsh chemicals anywhere in your home where your dog may come into contact. This includes floor cleaners, carpet deodorizers or furniture polish. Choose natural solutions if possible.

Step 5: Live in the Moment

One of the most amazing characteristics of dogs is their ability to live fully in the present moment, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Dogs don’t have the burden of knowing that they have cancer or that they may someday die. We can take a lesson from our dogs by using the experience of cancer to learn how to cherish the present and let go of what cannot be changed in the past and what is uncertain in the future.

As any dog owner can attest to, dogs have a special ability to know exactly how we are feeling without the benefit of verbal communication. They can sense our moods, read our body language and smell minute changes in our body chemistry with uncanny accuracy. As a result, it is very important that we recognize this and make every effort not to burden our companions with our human fears and anxieties while they are battling cancer. No matter how sad, frightened or frustrated you may feel, make every effort to put these emotions aside when in the presence of your dog. They need every ounce of positive, loving energy from you while in this fight against cancer, and you owe it to them to give them this small gift. Will you always succeed? No. It can be easy to be overwhelmed with sadness or preemptive grief at times. But, you can do your very best to remain positive and hopeful around your dog as often as possible.

It may seem hard at first, but I promise, it is one of the things you will be most grateful for months or years down the road. There will always come a time for tears and grief, but until that day comes, cherish each and every moment with your special canine companion. Celebrate the small victories and create joyful memories. And when doubt does start creeping in, just remind yourself “Today is Not the Day.”

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