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Palliative care is treatment that is aimed primarily at controlling symptoms unlike definitive treatment, which is aimed primarily at controlling the disease that is causing those signs. In many cases of course, the best palliative treatment is also definitive treatment, but there are circumstances when either there are no more definitive options available, or where they are not suitable, where palliative care alone is critical in maintaining your pet’s quality of life.
We can think of it in this way; definitive treatment is about maximising the time your pet has with you following the diagnosis of cancer, while palliative care is about maximising the quality of life that your pet has, despite the diagnosis of cancer. (see Living with Cancer)
You might like to think of the following aspects when thinking of your pet’s quality of life…
Many cancers are painful in their own right and of course older animals can have other conditions that might cause discomfort, arthritis or dental disease for example. The procedures that we carry out might also be painful to some degree, though we recognise this and will give pre-emptive analgesia.
It is important to ensure adequate nutrition and you may need to adapt the texture and flavour of your pet’s food. Some chemo treatments can cause a change in taste and appetite and cancer can cause a change in appetite.
Maintaining hydration is important and we can advise on ways to ensure that your pet keeps sufficient water intake.
Can your pet pass his poo and wee normally? And are they of normal in consistency? Some cancer treatments may cause diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, others can cause constipation and we can advise on suitable treatments and adaptations to help with this.
Is your pet still able to get about as normal? Remember though that as disease advances, or as our patients age naturally, the level of activity may change. Your pet may be more content to stay inside, or their level of activity may be limited to the garden, not the open fields any more. Most importantly is your pet still keen to have his exercise?
This is hard to define, and includes all of the above. We all know instinctively when our pets are happy…it is what makes them who they are. Are they still part of the household? Still interacting? Still taking part in the daily activities of the household?
At Pet Cancer Care, we believe that it is important to start this discussion early in your pet’s cancer journey.
There will come a time of course where the difficult decision to say goodbye to your pet will need to be made. Perhaps the cancer has advanced too far and the treatment is no longer effective, perhaps the treatment will be too much for your pet, perhaps some other illness is making it difficult to control the cancer. Making this decision this is always going to be a difficult and painful one, but it may come as a comfort that we will be providing a release from symptoms that may have become unmanageable and where quality of life has become too compromised.
As owners and professionals, it is a comfort to know that we have the privilege of being able to provide this final kindness.