If your dog has cancer, meeting with a veterinary oncologist can be a very valuable experience. An oncologist has a completely different skillset and knowledge base than other veterinary specialists and general practitioners.
We've attended four years of veterinary school as well as an additional four to five years of training to become an oncologist. We've also passed rigorous exams and published original research in oncology to become board certified. As an oncologist, we only see patients with cancer, all-day everyday.
Our goal is to help you gain a better understanding of your dog's cancer, your treatment options, cost and side effects associated with each treatment, and determine how long your dog might be expected to live with each option. We want you to be able to choose a treatment that you feel is best for you and for your dog.
Often additional tests are needed to provide accurate information about lifespan. We need to know if cancer has spread (metastasized) in order to know which treatments are appropriate and also to help predict life expectancy with each treatment option.
During the consultation, the oncologist will discuss which additional tests are recommended (if any); many times, these can be completed the same day as your consultation if you'd like. Because of this, it's best if you refrain from feeding your dog after 10 pm the night before your visit.
The remainder of the article will focus on the best ways to prepare for your visit and ensure that you get the most out of your oncology visit.
How To Prepare For Your Consultation
(1) It's typically best if you avoid feeding your dog after 10 pm the night before your visit. This will allow the oncologist the ability to perform testing if indicated.
Sometimes dogs have conditions where fasting is contraindicated, such as diabetes or an insulinoma. These patients should not fast. If you feel that your dog might have a condition prohibiting fasting, ask the oncology staff about fasting prior to your visit.
(2) Bring all medications and supplements that your dog is receiving so the oncologist has accurate information about what your dog is taking. If this is not possible, write down the name of the medications and supplements as well as the amounts and frequencies that they are being administered.
(3) Try not to let your dog urinate outside the hospital - the oncologist might need that urine!
Bring An Open Mind
(1) The oncologist may give you different information than your vet provided or different information than you found on the internet. Remember that you were referred to them for a reason - their expertise. Oncologists have an immense amount of knowledge and experience in oncology that other veterinarians don't have. They can help guide you in making the best decision for your dog.
(2) Know that cancer treatments for dogs are very different than for people. The goal in veterinary oncology is to help your dog live longer but still have a good quality of life. If that's not being achieved we make a change.
Get The Most From Your Appointment
Talking about your dog's cancer is emotional and overwhelming. Expect to feel drained afterward and to remember a small fraction of what was said (or even misremember information).
(1) To ensure that you hear all of the important details, ask the oncologist if you can make an audio recording of the visit on your phone. You can then listen to the recording at home when you're more relaxed and take notes.
Once you've processed everything, you can make a list of questions to ask the oncologist to make sure you have an excellent understanding of your dog's cancer, prognosis, and treatment options.
If you don't feel comfortable making a recording, you can ask the oncologist for a typed summary of what was discussed (most oncologists do this anyway).
(2) If you have questions after the visit (which we expect), please call the oncologist. We want you to understand your options and your dog's cancer.
If you have LOTS of questions, you can always schedule a recheck visit to ask them in person or see if the oncologist is open to email.
What If You're 99% Certain You Don't Want "Cancer Treatment"?
I see many clients that come for a consultation because they want to have as much information as possible about their dog's cancer and to have all of their questions answered.
They are 99% certain that they don't want to pursue cancer treatment, but they just want to feel that that they have all of the information, as well as the ability to call me down the road if something changes.
In these cases, we talk about what to expect over the upcoming weeks or months and we make sure that their dog is comfortable. Sometimes I make recommendations as to how we can increase quality of life and comfort with medications or other modalities. Then we discuss a monitoring/follow-up plan with their normal care-provider.
How To Find A Local Oncologist
The two links below will help you find most oncologists throughout the US. If you cannot find an oncologist using the links below, I would do one of the following (1) ask your general practitioner for a referral to the nearest oncologist, (2) perform a Google search using the name of your town or the nearest large town or metropolitan area + "veterinary oncologist", (3) perform a Google search for the nearest veterinary specialty center - if they do not have an oncologist, they will know how to find one.
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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