Cancer is incredibly common in dogs these days. More than 50% of dogs over 10 years of age will develop cancer. The dogs that do the best, despite having cancer, are those that are diagnosed quickly, accurately, and receive the most successful treatment for their particular cancer.
In many cases, in order to understand a patient's cancer well enough to recommend the best treatment, it involves using diagnostic tools that aren't available in most small animal clinics (such as CT and ultrasound).
If your dog is diagnosed with cancer and you want to give him the best chance at living as long as possible, my advice is to see an oncologist.
An oncologist has access to all of the latest research in veterinary oncology. We know about new treatments that your regular veterinarian may not.
There are some general practitioners that excel in oncology because they really enjoy it, so they're constantly staying on top of new information. You are very lucky if you have one of these practitioners!
If you don't have an oncologist in your area I still recommend seeking out the opinion of an oncologist. This may involve spending a full day to drive a few hours to and from your nearest oncologist. In the whole scheme of things, I'd say that one day of driving is worth it just to make sure that you're not missing out on important information regarding your dog's cancer.
If you don't have an oncologist within driving distance, the next best option would be to see if the nearest oncologist would be open to a phone consultation. There are major limitations to this option (we really need a physical exam to make definitive recommendations), but it can still be helpful.
Alternatively, you can ask your vet to consult over the phone with the nearest oncologist. This is my least favorite option. These are usually brief phone calls during busy days and important information about the patient is almost always left out (and again, we don't get the benefit of the physical exam, which is so important).
Some clients refrain from obtaining a second opinion because they have had a decades-long relationship with their primary care veterinarian. They trust them implicitly and feel that seeking out a second opinion would be "going behind their back". There are even cases in which I'm not allowed to request medical records from a vet because the client doesn't want them to find out that they're seeing me for a consultation.
While I understand not wanting to offend someone, I do actually think this is crazy. First, you probably should have been referred to an oncologist in the first place. It's impossible for a general practitioner to have the same knowledge about cancer as an oncologist. Second, your dog's best interest should be the number one priority for everyone involved in his care.
If you're worried about offending someone by seeking a second opinion, you should consider if they have your dog's best interest as their first priority. If the answer is no, then it might be time to find a new primary care provider. I know that sounds a bit harsh, but every day I see dogs' lives cut short due to a lack of appropriate medical care or inappropriate advice. It's an unfortunate reality.
So if you've been told that there aren't any options or didn't like the options you were given, just seek out a second opinion. Sure it's possible that the oncologist may agree with your vet, but it's also possible that you might learn something that will help your dog live the longer and better life that you were hoping for.
You can locate veterinary oncologists throughout the US and beyond using the links below:
Dr. Lori Cesario
Board Certified Veterinary Oncologist
PS: I'm happy to now offer online oncology consultations. Learn more about how this service can help by visiting the Vet Cancer Consultants site.
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