High-End Pet Cancer Care Extends Lives, Raises Questions

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It looks like a busy human hospital.  But all of the patients the Cancer Institute in Manhattan’s Animal Medical Center are pets.

After doctors sedate Dakota, they haul the 80-pound Bernese Mountain dog onto a flat table to map his snout for a radiation treatment.  He has cancer in his nose.

Upstairs, another veterinary team tests 14-year old Arnold for a similar problem, running a CT scan to examine a nasal tumor.

Each week, about 120 pets come to the Cancer Institute, where they receive the most advanced cancer care, similar to humans.

"We treat animals for both chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy,” says Dr. Nicole Leibman, a veterinary oncologist at the  Animal Medical Center.

9-year old Lola is receiving chemotherapy for a form of pancreatic cancer.  After six months of treat, her owner says Lola is cancer-free.

"If I hadn't gone through whatever I had gone through for her she probably only had a few more months to live, “ says Dominique Milbank.

It’s a costly investment more pet owners are making.  About half of dogs over the age of 10 develop cancer.  High-end animal cancer treatments are now available at veterinary clinics across the country.  Treatment can run into the tens of thousands of dollars without pet insurance. 

It took nearly 4 years, 40 doses of chemo, and close to $30,000 to treat Lulu, who is 14.

"It's safe to say we could have bought a very nice luxury car,” jokes her owner Marilyn Benetatos.

As veterinary treatments and technology improve, veterinary cancer specialists like Dr. Brooke Britton of BluePearl Veterinary Partners are weighing the ethics of spending tens of thousands of dollars on pet care.

"You know there's a saying 'just because we can, doesn't always mean we should',” says Dr. Britton.  “ I'm a firm believer of stopping before a time when we've believed we've reached a limit of what we believe we can reasonably do to extend a pet's quality of life and life span."

But to owners like Dominque Milbank, who rescued her dog Lola after the dog was found tied to a bend, there is only one option.

"I would give every penny I have, every saving that I have,” says Milbank. “I would do everything for her that I can."