palliative care

Review: Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology: Honoring the Human-Animal Bond

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You’re probably just as surprised as Allegra looks in the photo above, wondering why you’re seeing a book with a dog on the cover on The Conscious Cat. Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology: Honoring the Human-Animal Bond, is definitely a bit of a departure from our usual book reviews, but I believe that this is an important book and I want to bring it to a wider audience than the one it was intended for. Even though this book is first and foremost a unique text book for veterinarians, veterinary students, interns residents, attending doctors and nursing staff, it is also a fantastic resource for cat parents who are faced with a cancer diagnosis.Continue Reading

Hospice Care for Cats

hospice-cats

In the past, euthanasia was often the only option for cats with terminal illnesses. Today, hospice or palliative care is a very real alternative.

Hospice involves providing supportive care to cats in the final stages of their lives so that when the time comes, they can pass naturally and peacefully. The primary goal is to keep the cat comfortable and free of pain, with a focus on quality of life.

Palliative care should not be considered a last resort. It is not about dying, but rather, about finding ways to help the cat live comfortably with a terminal illness.Continue Reading

A Team Approach to Caring for Cats with Cancer

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While cancer in cats is not as common as it in dogs, it is still one of the leading causes of death in older cats. According to the Animal Cancer Foundation, 6 million cats will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States along. And because cats are masters at masking illness, it is often harder to detect.

Cancer used to be a death sentence for cats, but recent advances in feline cancer research have made treatment possible in many cases. Just like with human cancers, early detection is key to successful treatment. Depending on the type of cancer, treatment options may include sugery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Whether you choose aggressive treatment for your cat’s cancer, or whether you elect to provide palliative care, which focuses on providing quality of life for the ill cat as well as the cat’s caregiver, caring for the feline cancer patient is a team effort that involves the cat’s guardian, her veterinarian and staff, and, if needed, a social worker or bereavement counselor.

I recently had a chance to speak with Conor J. McNeill, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM (Oncology), an oncolgist at the Hope Center for Advanced Veterinary MedicineContinue Reading

Mammary Cancer in Cats

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An estimated 30 percent to 40 percent of all cats will be affected by cancer. Mammary (breast) cancer is the third most common cancer in cats, after lymphoma and skin cancer. More than 90% of the victims are female cats older than 10 years of age. Early detection of this type of cancer is critical and greatly improves chances of survival for affected cats.

Symptoms

Mammary tumors often appear as small, hard lumps the size of a pebble or pea. They may be moveable, or may be firmly attached to the skin or underlying muscle. The most common locations for these tumors are the first front sets of mammary glands, but they can occur anywhere near the cat’s nipples. In its initial stage, the tumor may be hard to feel, it’s not painful, and there won’t be any obvious clinical signs. It can be months before a growth is noticed.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is obtained by surgically removing the growthContinue Reading

Palliative Care for the Feline Cancer Patient

Buckley_November_2008

While cancer in cats is not as common as it in dogs, it is still one of the leading causes of death in older cats. According to the Animal Cancer Foundation, 6 million cats will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States along. And because cats are masters at masking illness, it is often harder to detect.

Cancer used to be a death sentence for cats, but recent advances in feline cancer research have made treatment possible in many cases. Just like with human cancers, early detection is key to successful treatment. Depending on the type of cancer, treatment options may include sugery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

How and whether to treat cancer can be a big decision for cat parents, and factors such as the cat’s age, general health status, temperament all come into play. So do finances: cancer therapies can be expensive.

Sometimes, the right answer may be no treatment, and keeping the cat comfortable with good quality of life for as long as possible may be an appropriate choice.Continue Reading

Providing Hospice Care for Cats

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As veterinary care for cats is becoming more and more sophisticated and as more cat guardians understand the importance of  a lifetime of preventive care, cats live longer lives.  But despite all of that, cats still get sick, and when they do, there are often numerous treatment options.   However, some illnesses are considered terminal, and in the past, euthanasia was often the only option pet guardians would consider at that stage.  An alternative to premature euthanasia that is garnering more attention in the world of pet care is hospice care.

Hospice care is about providing good quality of life

The definition of a terminal illness is an illness for which there is no cure.  It is an active, progressive, irreversible illness with a fatal prognosis.  Hospice care provides a loving alternative to prolonged suffering and is designed to give supportive care to cats in the final phase of a terminal illness.  The goal is to keep the cat comfortable and free of pain, with a focus on quality of life and living each day as fully as possible.

The decision to stop treatment and begin hospice care can be made at any point in the progression of a terminal illness.   Decisions may range from choosing to forego aggressive surgery after receiving a cancer diagnosis because of a poor prognosis, discontinuing chemotherapy or radiation because the cat is either not responding or is dealing with side-effects that are rapidly diminishing his quality of life, or discontinuing medications because medicating the cat is difficult or impossible for the cat owner.  Rather than opting for euthanasia, cat owners may choose to provide hospice care for their cat.

Hospice care is not about giving up

Hospice care is not a last resort, and is not about giving up, or about dying.  It’s about finding ways to live with a terminal illness, and it may actually involve providing more care and not less.  The decision to provide hospice care should be made in conjunction with your veterinarian, who will become an integral partner in the process.

What does hospice care involve?

Hospice care involves the following:

  • Comfort:  Provide clean, soft bedding with easy access to food, litter boxes, favorite sleeping spots and interaction with family members.  Handle cats gently because many terminal medical conditions create discomfort and pain.
  • Nutrition and Hydration:  Provide easy access to food and water.  You may need to experiment with special foods to tempt ill cats.  In addition to feeding a high quality, grain-free canned or raw (if you cat is immunocompromised, raw food is not recommended) diet, you may need to offer foods such as meat-based baby food (make sure that there is no onion powder in the brand you buy), tuna juice or flakes of tuna spread on top of the cat’s regular food, and slightly warming the food to increase palatability. Make sure the cat always has fresh water available.
  • Cleanliness:  Sick cats may not be able to groom themselves.  Assist your cat with this by gently brushing, and keeping eyes, ears, the area around the mouth and around the rectum and genetalia clean if she can’t do it by herself anymore.
  • Pain Management:  Cats are good at hiding pain.  Watch your cat for signs of pain – subtle signs may involve hiding, avoiding contact with family members, or changes in sleeping positions.  Rarely will cats vocalize when they’re in pain.  Work with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate pain control program for your cat.
  • Holistic Therapies:  There are many non-invasive, gentle holistic therapies that can provide relief to terminally ill cats.  Energy therapies such as Reiki, Healing Touch, Tellington Touch and others are particularly effective.

A time of peace for cat and human

Despite the logistic and emotional challenges hospice care presents for cats and their humans, it can also be a time of great peace and increased bonding with your beloved feline companion.  It also allows for a gentle preparation  for the impending loss for both cat and human.   Diagnosis of a terminal illness does not have to be the end – it can be the beginning of a deepening, peaceful, final phase of life for both cat and human.