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Written by Dr. Mindy Brewster, Caring Pathways Veterinarian

Understanding Nasal Tumors:

For pet owners facing the heart-wrenching reality of having a beloved pet diagnosed with nasal cancer, the journey likely seems daunting. Nasal cancer results from the uncontrolled production of abnormal cells that line the nasal passages.

The most common type of nasal cancer in dogs is adenocarcinoma. Other types of nasal tumors can also affect our pets. The most often seen clinical signs include:

  • Nasal discharge with or without blood
  • Sneezing
  • Swelling on the bridge of the nose or facial asymmetry
  • Difficult or noisy breathing
  • Snoring

While a diagnosis of nasal cancer is overwhelming, it’s important to explore all available options to ensure the best possible quality of life for your pet. One option to consider is palliative care.

Palliative care focuses on alleviating pain and discomfort, enhancing quality of life, and providing support for both the pet and owner throughout the illness. In the case of nasal adenocarcinoma, palliative care can play a crucial role in managing symptoms, improving comfort, and maximizing the time spent with your beloved pet.

Here, I will discuss treatment options, the benefits of palliative and hospice care, and offer guidance and support for pet owners navigating this challenging journey.

Before delving into palliative care, it is important to understand the nature of nasal cancer and its impact on the health of your dog.

Nasal adenocarcinoma is a malignant tumor that originates from the glandular tissue of the nasal passages. While the exact cause is unclear, it is more commonly diagnosed in urban areas and senior, large-breed dogs with longer noses. Dogs such as German Shepherds and Collies are more commonly affected, although it can occur in any dog at any age.

This type of cancer is less likely to spread (metastasize) to the rest of the body but is typically very aggressive locally. It can grow large enough to cut off airflow to the nostrils completely and can also spread to the eyes and brain due to its proximity to the nasal cavity.

Common Early Symptoms in Dogs:

  • Persistent nasal discharge
  • Sneezing and nasal congestion
  • Nose bleeds
  • Difficulty breathing, especially through the nostrils
  • Snoring

Mid to Late-Stage Symptoms in Dogs:

  • Decreased energy levels, lethargy
  • Decreased appetite, weight loss
  • Eye discharge, vision problems
  • Disorientation, walking in circles, seizures
  • Swelling over the bridge of the nose, facial swelling or deformity
  • Inability to breathe through the nostrils
  • Extreme difficulty sleeping (due to the nostrils being occluded by the tumor)

Diagnosis and Treatment:

Diagnosis typically involves a combination of physical exams, imaging studies (x-rays and/or CT scans), and possibly a biopsy to confirm the presence of cancerous cells. Due to the non-specific, early symptoms of mildly increased sneezing and nasal discharge, most dogs have been showing signs of the disease for 2-3 months by the time a diagnosis is made.

Once diagnosed, treatment options include:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Symptom management
  • Pain management

Due to the location of the tumors and the nature of this type of cancer, surgery is usually not recommended. However, this is determined on a case-by-case basis by your veterinary team. Nasal cancer is considered to be aggressive, and regardless of the type of treatment pursued, completely curing the disease is not expected.

Prognosis:

Radiation therapy is considered the gold standard for treating most types of nasal cancer. Radiation therapy can provide excellent local control of the tumor and relief of clinical signs. Pets receiving radiation treatment have an average survival time of 12 months, with a range of 6-18 months depending on several factors. These factors include how early in the course of the disease treatment was initiated, the pet’s response to therapy, and the aggressiveness of the cancer.

Without treatment, the expected survival time for dogs diagnosed with nasal cancer is 3-5 months from the time of diagnosis. Even though radiation therapy is considered the treatment of choice for this condition, it may not be appropriate or accessible for a particular patient for various reasons. Many pet owners rely on symptom control and comfort care for their beloved pets.

The Role of Palliative Care:

Hospice and palliative care focuses on managing symptoms related to cancer, controlling pain, and improving your pet’s quality of life. The ultimate goal of palliative care is to enhance comfort and minimize suffering. It can be implemented at any stage of the disease, whether alongside conventional medical treatment or as the primary mode of care for dogs when curative treatment is not feasible.

The Key Components of Palliative Care for Dogs with Nasal Cancer Include:

Pain Management:

Palliative care prioritizes effective pain management tailored to the individual pet through the use of pain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, opioids, and other modalities. Controlling pain not only increases your dog’s level of comfort but also enhances their overall well-being.

Symptom Control:

Beyond pain, dogs with nasal cancer often experience a range of uncomfortable symptoms associated with the condition that affects their quality of life. Palliative care addresses these symptoms holistically, whether it involves managing nasal discharge or addressing appetite changes and weight loss.

Nutritional Support:

Maintaining adequate nutrition is vital for dogs undergoing treatment for nasal cancer and those receiving palliative care. Cancer-related symptoms such as nasal congestion and decreased appetite can make it difficult for your pet to get the nutrition they need to support their bodies. Palliative care may involve nutritional support such as appetite stimulant medications and specialized diets to ensure that dogs are getting the nutrients they need to help them stay strong and resilient.

Emotional Support:

A cancer diagnosis can take an emotional toll, not only on the affected pet but also on the human family members. Palliative care can provide much-needed emotional support and guidance, helping pet owners navigate the complex emotions associated with caring for a terminally ill pet. This may involve counseling, support groups, or access to resources that facilitate coping, processing, and decision-making during this challenging time.

The Key Components of Palliative Care for Dogs with Nasal Cancer Include:

Improved Quality of Life:

By focusing on symptom management and comfort, palliative care enhances the overall quality of life for dogs with nasal cancer. Pets receiving palliative care will likely experience less pain, discomfort, and distress, allowing them to be more fully engaged with their family and continue to enjoy the aspects of their lives that bring them happiness.

Extended Survival Time:

While palliative care will not cure nasal cancer, it often results in extended survival times because pets are more comfortable and are able to maintain a good quality of life for longer than pets who do not receive this type of care.

Enhanced Bonding:

The journey through a nasal cancer diagnosis is inherently stressful. Palliative care alleviates stress by providing comprehensive support, guidance, and resources to help families cope with the challenges they face. Knowing that their dog’s comfort and well-being are the top priority brings peace of mind during a difficult time.

Reduced Stress:

Palliative care often fosters a deeper level of connection between human caregivers and their pets, as it involves attentive and compassionate care tailored to the dog’s individual needs. The intimate caregiving experience invites families to be fully present and cherish their time with their beloved pets.

Empowerment in Decision-Making:

Palliative care empowers pet owners to make informed decisions about their dog’s care, treatment, and end-of-life options. By collaborating closely with a veterinary palliative care team, families can navigate the complexities of the disease with more clarity, ensuring that their dog’s needs, as well as their own preferences, are respected every step of the way.

In Closing:

Nasal cancer poses significant challenges for dogs and their families, but palliative care offers a compassionate and effective approach to managing the disease. By focusing on pain management, symptom control, nutritional support, emotional well-being, and end-of-life planning, palliative care enhances the quality of life for dogs with nasal cancer and provides invaluable support for their human caregivers. Through palliative care, families can treasure their time together, celebrate their bond, and provide their beloved canine companions with the comfort and dignity they deserve until the very end.

Support Through Every Step:

At Caring Pathways, we understand navigating this part of your pet’s life can be painful and difficult. We are committed to helping your family navigate this journey. 

Helpful Caring Pathways Resources:

About the Author: Mindy Brewster, DVM, CHPV

Dr. Brewster is originally from Nebraska. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Iowa State University in 2011. During veterinary school she came to Colorado for several weeks for an internship and knew she wanted to live here. After graduating, she packed up her four-legged family and moved to Denver. Dr. Mindy worked in private practice for 7 years honing her diagnostic and surgical skills while also volunteering in shelter medicine. Dr. Mindy became aware of Caring Pathways in 2011 when she had to say goodbye to her first pet, a very special senior cat named Jack. That experience taught her the value of a peaceful, at-home passing. The experience impacted her so much that she knew she wanted to help others in this way too. Dr. Mindy is truly honored to be able to provide this service for people and their beloved pets as part of the Caring Pathways Team. Dr. Mindy is committed to life-long learning and is always looking for ways to better serve her clients and their pets. She recently completed over 100 hours of continuing education in end-of-life care and earned her certification in hospice and palliative care (CHPV).

Gina Singleton
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Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice

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