At the Flint Animal Cancer Center, we work hard to make your pet’s frequent veterinary visits as stress-free as possible. We understand that coming to see us is a much different experience than a trip to your local veterinary clinic. We hope to help you understand the variety of experiences your pet may have during their oncology visits and how we work to provide a positive experience. We also offer you some ideas that will help make your pet’s visit as pleasant as possible.
The first appointment jitters.
It’s a big place! Like the difference between a doctor visit and a hospital visit for humans, this building is a new space that comes with a variety of smells, sights, and sounds. These stimuli can be overwhelming for your pet.
So many new faces! Our oncology department includes three specialties: Medical Oncology, Radiation Oncology, and Surgical Oncology. This makes treatment a wonderful combined process but also means your pet meets a lot of people. To provide consistency, we try to keep your pet’s nursing staff as consistent as possible throughout treatment in each subset of the oncology department.
Are we done yet? Yearly exams for your pet may take up to an hour, but cancer treatment is a much more involved process, and your pet is often in our hospital anywhere from 2-6 hours. During their stay, your pet has a kennel with water, blankets, and pads. Our large kennels have a front door that is either clear or fogged plexiglass, and all have an open top. For our petite patients, smaller kennels are available that are more suited to their stature to provide them with a safe den-like experience. Our kennel room is separate from other departments’ animals, temperature-controlled, and often has soothing classical music playing. We have a fantastic staff of volunteers, students, and of course, your pet’s medical team that will take your pet out for potty breaks during their stay. For some pets, the kennel experience could be new and abnormal. If we notice your pet has some stress associated with in-hospital stays, we may recommend oral medication to relieve this feeling. Our goal in the oncology department is to make the process of cancer treatment as stress-free as possible for your pet.
Cancer Diagnostics and Treatment
While vaccines and regular exams are likely something your pet has experienced many times, the treatments in the oncology department are tailored to treating your pet’s cancer and, as a result, have some key differences. Each visit, your pet will have a thorough exam and many times a blood draw. Many appointments also include radiographs, ultrasounds, fine needle aspirates, biopsies, and chemotherapy. Once a treatment plan is in place, your pet will likely face various new experiences that can cause stress. Our team works with our colleagues across the hospital to focus on your pet’s safety and well-being.
- Radiographs (x-rays) at CSU
As a leading veterinary institution, Colorado State University has an amazing team of board-certified radiologists. The very best radiographs of your pet require perfect positioning and a dark room where your pet is lifted onto a table. Because we have to position our patients in the perfect and consistent manner for their radiographs, they may get frustrated with us touching their legs, paws, and heads. Radiographs can be a particularly stressful part of your pet’s visit, and as a result, your pet may benefit from mild sedation. This sedation will remove the stress associated with the event and allow our radiologist to achieve ideal images quickly. In addition, it helps our radiology staff stay safe and limit their radiation exposure by avoiding taking additional images due to improper positioning.
- Ultrasounds at CSU
Ultrasounds require your pet to lay on its back in a padded trough for an hour or more. For pets (and humans), this is a long time to hold still. For an ultrasound, your pet’s fur must be shaved from the site that is being imaged. Many pets do not enjoy the sound of clippers or the vibrating sensation they create when their hair is shaved. During your pet’s ultrasound, our specialized radiology team may find an abnormality that is worth sampling. These samples may give your oncologist crucial information such as new cancers, organ function changes, or spread of cancer. For these reasons, the majority of our patients that receive ultrasounds require mild to moderate sedation. The level of sedation is typically increased when samples must be taken to make this process safe and pain-free for your pet.
- Fine needle aspirates and biopsies
Veterinary medicine frequently uses fine needle aspirate (FNA) as a way to quickly sample lesions, masses, and suspicious findings during your pet’s exam. A small needle is used to poke the concerning region, and a collection of cells is obtained. These samples are typically submitted to our Clinical Pathology Laboratory, where a pathologist will review the cells and give us insight into tumor types, benign processes, or infection. Before your pet arrives at the FACC, there is a high likelihood it has already had some form of FNA done. The process is often described as a bug bite sensation, and while the pain level is low for most regions of the body, it does cause some discomfort and often an annoyance. If your pet requires a large number of aspirates or aspirates of a sensitive area, your pet may receive medications that have pain control and/or sedation properties. All biopsies require heavy sedation or anesthesia. We always provide at least one form of pain killer during these procedures. Your pet’s veterinarian will determine the degree of sedation required. Your pet is monitored carefully through this process and, if beneficial to your pet, some of the drugs utilized may be reversed once the procedure is complete.
Our oncology department is fortunate to have a dedicated chemotherapy space with a sliding door that eliminates most outside noises. During chemotherapy, your pet is accompanied by a minimum of two of our veterinary technicians – one to hold your pet and one to administer chemotherapy. Some cancer protocols have oral chemotherapy options that involve tasty treats like pill pockets and peanut butter for quick oral administration. Injectable chemotherapy requires the use of an intravenous catheter. While low on a pain scale, the placement of a catheter can cause mild discomfort that can feel abnormal to your pet. Most of our patients rapidly adjust to this sensation. Your pet is laid on its side, either on a padded mat on the floor or a padded elevated table. Injectable chemotherapy can take anywhere between 10 minutes and 4 hours, depending on the type of chemotherapy being administered. Chemotherapeutics are administered with great care to make the process safe for your pet and our team. If your pet exhibits any signs of stress during the chemotherapy administration process, we typically recommend oral or very mild injectable sedation. While this entire process can seem scary to owners, our patients usually find this part of their visit to be the most relaxing. There are frequently treats, lots of petting, and sometimes even creative singing involved as happy distractions for your pet.
Partnering with you to provide a low-stress visit
We care deeply for your pet. After all, every member of the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital has dedicated their career to helping animals! We treat each patient uniquely in regard to both their disease process and their personality. Like humans going to the doctor, there are a wide variety of emotional responses that pets experience at our large institution. We work hard to tailor fear-free practices that will make the entire process more pleasant for your pet and ideally for you as well. While some of the methods we choose may differ from that of your pet’s prior veterinary experience, the recommendations or treatment options we utilize are made in the best interest of your pet.
With your help, we can make your pet’s visits positive (maybe even fun!) experiences. Below are the fear-free tools our department uses and ways you can help prepare your pet for their visits.
Treats! We are treat giving machines. If your pet has a special diet or favorite treat, please bring a small bag of these to their appointments. Our current arsenal includes hypoallergenic treats, a wide variety of pill pocket flavors, a substantial amount of creamy peanut butter, and even spray cheese!
Fasting. Treats work best when your pet is hungry. This positive interaction between your pet and its medical team builds a lasting bond and reminds your pet that visits do have positives! You are welcome to bring a ziplock or Tupperware container of your dog’s meal that we can give to them once any imaging is completed.
Oral medications. Your pet may be sent home with anti-anxiety or calming medicines. These are to be given both the night prior and morning of their visit.
Injectable sedation. Your veterinary team may administer this during the portion of your pet’s visit that may be the most stressful for him or her. Visits that include imaging usually mean your pet will likely need a mild injectable sedation. We can often reverse the effects of the sedative when the procedure is over; however, your pet may be sleepy for several hours after their visit. In some cases, owners may feel the pet is not entirely back to themselves until the following day. We appreciate all feedback regarding how your pet does at home after receiving sedation at our hospital. Feedback allows us to tailor medication to your pet further.