November 18, 2020 Oncology Pets and Family

Pet Cancer and Caregiver Burden: You Are Not Alone

A man hugging a dog

Pet Cancer and Caregiver Burden: You Are Not Alone

November is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month. According to the National Cancer Institute, one in ten dogs will have a new diagnosis of cancer in any given year. The numbers for cancer in cats are similar. I have a t-shirt from my friends at the PuppyUp Foundation that says: “Cancer. Touches. Everyone”. The first two blog posts of the month focused on animal cancer patients. This blog post focuses on the other part of everyone, their human caregivers.

Pet Owners and a Cancer Diagnosis

Owners of a pet with cancer face many challenges. First, there is the serious and potentially life-threatening illness of their favorite fur-person. Then, there is their new task at hand, that of cancer patient caregiver. Along with that role comes a new team of veterinary specialists who will recommend treatments, prescribe medications and lead to a change in the daily routine. On top of the pet’s illness, all these changes can lead to caregiver burden.

Pet Cancer and Caregiver Burden

Caregiver burden is a term traditionally used in human medicine to describe an individual’s response to the challenges presented by caring for a sick human family member, resulting in emotional and physical stress for the caregiver. This same disorder can also affect people caring for a seriously ill pet. No surprise here, a recently published study found caring for a pet with cancer increases caregiver burden.

The Antidote to Uncertainty is Knowledge

Uncertainty drives our fears about the diagnosis of cancer. Uncertainty about the effects of cancer, uncertainty regarding side effects of treatment and, most importantly, uncertainty as to the ultimate outcome – life or death. All these uncertainties keep us up at night fearing a catastrophic end. The antidote to uncertainty is knowledge. While veterinary oncologists don’t have the answers to all your questions, we can probably provide enough information to significantly decrease your uncertainty and improve your sleep.

While I acknowledge caring for a pet with cancer is challenging, most owners of pets treated for cancer find the experience a positive one. For example, in a study of dogs and cats treated with the chemotherapy drug carboplatin, 89% of owners indicated they supported the use of chemotherapy treatments for pets and did not regret treating their pet. Owners of dogs treated with radiation therapy rated their dog’s quality of life as a 9 out of 10 on average, and 88% of the dog owners said they would treat another dog if radiation therapy was needed.

If caregiving is becoming a burden, there is help available. AMC maintains a list of human-centered resources on our website.

Worried about cancer in your pet? Review the warning signs of cancer in pets in AMC’s Usdan Pet Health Library.

Tags: caregiving,