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If Your Assistance Dog Is Diagnosed with Cancer

If Your Assistance Dog Is Diagnosed with Cancer

We recently wrote about the common warning signs of cancer in dogs and the importance of early detection. We wanted to follow up on that piece and talk a little about what happens if your assistance dog does receive a cancer diagnosis.

Initial Questions for Your Vet

Few things make your heart sink faster than hearing the C-word from your veterinarian. Lots of thoughts race through your head immediately. Plus, on top of the staggering emotional impact, those partnered with a guide, hearing, or service dog face another entire level of unique concerns pertaining to the unique relationship.

Obviously, you’ll have questions. It may be hard to think straight in the emotional moment, though. Take a few deep breaths to collect yourself. Many canine cancer cases are entirely treatable. Hopefully, your vet will take the lead and give you all the information you need. However, you do want to make sure you get answers to some key questions.

The US Food and Drug Administration recommends that the following be your first questions. Keep in mind, your vet may need further imaging or other tests to definitively answers to certain questions.

  • What treatments are available?
  • What is the prognosis with each treatment?
  • What are the side effects of each treatment and how will they affect my dog’s quality of life?
  • How long will I need to treat my dog?
  • What is the cost of each treatment?
  • How many visits back to the veterinarian are needed?

Canine Cancer Treatments 

Treating cancer in dogs has many similarities to treatment in humans. There are so many variables that affect which types of treatment are possible, which may be the most effective, and the prognosis. The type and stage of the cancer are particularly big factors. 

Typically, cancer treatment for dogs may include surgical removal of the tumor or affected area, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Also, immunotherapy is becoming more common in dogs (as with people). Sometimes, a single treatment is used, and sometimes a combination is administered. 

Cost of Cancer Care for Dogs 

Cancer treatment for an assistance dog isn’t cheap. The diagnostic process alone, with its various tests and veterinary office visits, can run from hundreds to thousands of dollars. If you see a veterinary oncologist, that’s likely to be more expensive than a standard vet, as well. 

Then there’s the matter of treatment. Some relatively simple surgical procedures may top out at around $1,000. But treatment that entails complicated surgery performed by a specialist and paired with radiation or chemotherapy can reach to many thousands of dollars, even as high as $15,000 in some cases. Ancillary prescriptions for painkillers, antibiotics, or other drugs may also come into play following surgery. 

Financial Aid for a Dog’s Cancer Treatment 

There are sources of financial assistance for people whose dogs require cancer treatment. Often, amounts are not high, as there are many dogs with cancer and people with financial need, and limited funds available to the organizations offering help. 

An internet search for financial aid for my dog’s cancer turns up numerous sources of monetary assistance. Go through the results to find opportunities you’re eligible for. You may also find a few possibilities in the veterinary financial aid section of our resource directory. 

The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) has an emergency fund for members whose partnerships are threatened by high veterinary bills that exceed their ability to pay. This is one benefit of membership. Learn more about this option here on the IAADP website. 

Can an Assistance Dog with Cancer Keep Working? 

This is obviously a pressing question for anyone with a service, hearing, or guide dog who’s received a cancer diagnosis. Of course, there’s no one answer for all situations. This is something you need to discuss in depth with your veterinarian. 

If your assistance dog is experiencing symptoms that can’t be well managed—either from the illness or treatment—they will interfere with her ability to stay focused and perform her tasks. Furthermore, it’s not fair to add work-related stress to a dog who’s suffering, who’s trying to rally into remission, or who needs to recover in a safe and healthy way.  

It’s worth noting that chemotherapy and radiation often don’t cause any side effects in dogs, in stark contrast to the typical human experience with these treatments. So, some assistance dogs may seem normal and capable while undergoing treatment. Still, to generalize, it seems unfair to expect an animal facing this challenge to take on extra ones. 

An assistance dog who’s expected to make a full recovery and who can be permitted to stop working temporarily while convalescing may be able to return to work. 

But often, a cancer diagnosis is the sign that it’s time to retire an assistance dog. Cancer most often strikes in the later years, so it’s likely the dog was approaching retirement age anyway. Regardless of the prognosis—whether this is an end-of-life stretch or just some bumps in the road—an assistance dog deserves the opportunity to face this health crisis with as easy a life as possible.



PetMD: What to Do When Your Dog Is Diagnosed with Cancer 

US Food and Drug Adminstration: My Dog Has Cancer – What Do I Need to Know?

WebMD: Dogs and Cancer – Get the Facts

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