As dedicated veterinarians, you possess an unwavering commitment to improving the lives of pets – and, ultimately, their humans. A task made all the more difficult when your pet patients are diagnosed with cancer. This is devastating and difficult news to share with parents who have a strong emotional bond with their pets. With the right support, however, you can help pets and their parents through this challenging journey.
According to the Animal Cancer Foundation, an estimated 6 million dogs and an additional 6 million cats in the US are diagnosed with cancer each year. While the types, stages, and treatments for each of these pet cancer patients may vary, the shock, grief, and anxiety doting pet parents endure is universal.
Now here’s the kicker: due to budgetary, time, and/or availability issues, of these more than 12 million annual pet cancer patients, only 1 in 10 will see a veterinary oncologist. In other words: primary care veterinarians are frequently left on their own, trying their best to be everything to every patient, without the help of an oncologist and other specialists to ease their burden.
You don’t have to go it alone though. Read on for some key pointers on how to support your pet patients, and their parents, through cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Seek Out Specialist Support
In spite of a well-documented dearth of specialist veterinary support, there is now an increasing uptick in remote veterinary support services. Which means primary care veterinarians no longer need to operate in a vacuum of veterinary specialist support.
Hope Veterinary Specialty Services, for example, offers quick, easily accessible, remote support to primary care veterinarians across the country (and even abroad) looking for help with their pet cancer patients. Long story short: you are not alone. Use the help at hand.
Delivering a cancer diagnosis requires a delicate balancing act between reality and compassion. The only way to navigate this contradiction is with honest, transparent, and compassionate communication.
Communicating clearly and kindly with pet parents is key to their understanding and expectations of their pet’s cancer diagnosis and fostering their trust in you.
Key communication points to cover:
- Offer a straightforward and comprehensive explanation of
- the diagnosis,
- tailored treatment plan options,
- potential outcomes,
- side effects, and
- associated costs.
- Encourage them to ask questions and express their concerns.
- Provide written materials that they can refer to later.
Hope Veterinary Specialty Services can help with all of the above: with just one email, primary care vets can now gain access to comprehensive written guides for a wide range of cancer diagnoses. All within just 72 hours of request for help.
Offer Emotional Support
A cancer diagnosis can elicit a range of emotions, from shock and sadness to fear, anxiety and even anger. Pet parents will undoubtedly need emotional support as much as their pets need medical treatment, and being there emotionally for pet parents can significantly contribute to their overall well-being.
To limit their fears and manage emotional turmoil:
- Show empathy and patience, acknowledging their feelings and addressing their concerns.
- Offer resources such as counseling services or support groups, where they can connect with others navigating similar situations. One such resource is the Argus Institute’s “Making Decisions” guide.
- Empower them with as much education on their pet’s condition as possible.
- Practice patience at all times, remembering that any information you give can feel overwhelming.
Educate and Empower
Empowering pet parents with knowledge about cancer, its treatment, and its potential impact on their pet’s daily life is key to helping them navigate this scary journey.
- Offer guidance on monitoring for changes in behavior, appetite, and overall well-being, as well as guidance and resources related to quality of life vs. continuing treatment. The Lap of Love Quality of Life Assessment is a great tool to assist in this.
- Educate pet parents about the signs of pain and discomfort and discuss pain management strategies.
- Encourage open communication, so they feel comfortable reaching out with any questions or concerns that arise during the treatment journey.
Foster a Team Approach
Pet parents should feel that they’re part of a team working together to ensure the best possible outcome for their furry companions. Fortunately, with the help of the specialists at Hope Veterinary Specialty Services, that team just got a little bigger, and a lot more supportive.
Dr Vanessa Rizzo, Founder & CEO of Hope Veterinary Specialist Services, is on a mission to change the way veterinary medicine works, helping pets and their primary care veterinarians from coast to coast. By creating Hope Veterinary Specialist Services, Dr Rizzo and her team of veterinary specialists are focused on innovation in veterinary services; a new way to treat pet cancer patients; and better support for vets in general practice, and ultimately their patients and their parents.