One of the biggest hurdles we face at The Veterinary Cancer Center is that most people associate cancer treatment in people with cancer treatment in pets. Witnessing a friend or a family member undergoing cancer treatment; even watching an episode of House will leave even the most optimistic person with a false and preconceived notion of what to expect in regards to cancer therapy in pets.
When my own dog was diagnosed with malignant histiocytosis I was immediately emotionally hijacked by my personal experiences with how my family members handled their cancer therapies. As a co-owner of The VCC, the doctors here still needed to remind me both intellectually and emotionally of how well pets handle cancer treatment.
Since cats and dogs have a limited life span (compared to people) the primary goals is not to cure the cancer, but to significantly slow it down. This not only gives them more time, but also gives them a higher quality of life… Even during treatment!
We do this by giving lower treatment doses then they do in humans (sometimes over longer periods of time) as well as treating the symptoms prophylactically. Many pets never show symptoms of either the disease or the treatment of disease. It’s truly amazing how well most pets do!
The other fact is that many pet owners and local veterinarians might not know all the amazing and novel therapies that have become available over the last few years. With the mapping of the genome, personalized medication, Radiation Therapy using IMRT, and the latest discovery regarding junk DNA, we are on the forefront of really making a difference when it comes to not only the treatment of pets with cancer, but for us humans as well.
Most people make emotional decisions every single day; it’s part of what makes us human. But I believe that one should never base a decision on fear or a lack of understanding. Always get the facts before making decisions about your pet’s health. The truth might surprise you…
Living in the moment – A cure for cancer?
In my last blog I talked about the fact that clients, and even referring veterinarians, used their own experiences of cancer as an indicator of what to expect during a pets cancer treatment.
I also talked about how well most pets do during treatment because of the way veterinary oncologist are able to treat. But I believe that other than the obvious biological differences there are other reasons why pets do so much better while undergoing treatment then do their human counterparts.
This reason might not necessarily be founded in fact, but is a personal belief. Animals live in the moment; they are not, by nature, self-conscious or discomfit. They don’t feel sorry for themselves nor let society’s stigmas or preconceived ideals dictate how they should behave or feel.
It is, however, scientifically proven that keeping a positive outlook (being happy) helps to significantly improve one’s health. When people deal with cancer they go through many stages ranging from grief to anger; it is a considerable time before they come to terms with their illness. I believe that this kind of stress can significantly hinder the body’s ability to handle disease, as well as the treatment of disease.
Another factor to consider is that animals, like children, are very sensitive to your emotions. If you are stressed or unhappy then it is very likely that your pet is as well. If your pet has cancer, or any terminal illness, you should never be so afraid of losing them that you don’t enjoy every moment that you have with them.
We have so much to learn from our pets; they celebrate life ever-single-day. They don’t know or even care that they have cancer. They only care about living in their moment… with you! Obviously this is not a cure for cancer, but never the less keeping a positive emotional outlook will only improve both you and your pet’s quality of life.
Cost of Care
We are all painfully aware of the rising cost of healthcare in the human sector. What many of us don’t know is the true cost associated with our own treatment since these costs are 'hidden" by our system of health insurance and third-party payments. This is in stark contrast to veterinary medicine where less than 5 percent of all pets are covered by health insurance. The true costs of pet care are quite obvious and borne by pet owners.
Many of the costs of running a veterinary hospital are identical to the costs of running a human hospital; education, staffing, advanced equipment and drugs to name just a few.
The cost of education for a medical doctor and veterinary doctor are identical and as you can imagine, very costly . In fact, it is harder to gain admission into veterinary school then medical school--there are only 28 schools of veterinary medicine in the entire United States - while there are over 130 medical schools.
In addition, there is the annual cost of Continuing Education, required for all veterinarians. This is mandated by law and includes seminars, conferences and webinars. This continuing education is critical, as it ensures that veterinarian stay current with regard to veterinary medical information.
Most of the equipment used in diagnosing and treating pets is identical to the equipment found in human hospitals. This includes hematology (blood analyzing) equipment, ultrasound machines, EKG monitors, digital radiology and even linear accelerators used for radiation therapy.
There are also costs that most of us don't even think about---costs for maintaining a safe environment for patients, clients, and the technicians who administer the chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Many of the therapies used are toxic to the environment if used inappropriately or if disposed of improperly. Adhering to all of the state and federal regulations is expensive.
Human healthcare costs are spiraling out of control. Business owners are seeing a 17% to 25% percent increase in healthcare benefit costs every year. Still, most veterinarians only increase fees based upon the cost of living index - if at all.
So although veterinarians and medical doctors share many of the same costs to run their business, veterinarians only charge a fraction of what medical doctors do.
Most pet owners share my belief that medical care for our pets is incredibly important and very much worthwhile. I hope that this information helps put the cost of quality veterinary care into perspective.