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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

For people, the cancer diagnosis causes a mixed bag of emotions, including fear, regret, depression, determination and more. This emotional roller coaster isn’t necessarily experienced by pets, as they may be blissfully unaware of the existence of their disease. Unlike people, pets are also blind to the logistical intricacies, ("How much time will I lose from my ball squeaking duties?") the societal implications ("What will my friends at the dog park think?"), and financial strains ("Let’s fund-raise with a home-prepared dog treat bake sale!") of their cancer treatment.

The good news is that due to the numerous therapeutic options available today, pets overcoming cancer and surviving longer. Cancer treatment has evolved to the degree that your pet’s condition may be resolved or well managed with surgery, radiation, medication, or other remedies. As a holistic veterinarian, the "other remedies" are where I focus my energies when consulting on nutritionally bio-available whole food diets and treats, prescribing immune system enhancing supplements and stagnation clearing Chinese herbs, and relieving pain through acupressure and acupuncture.

Although animals and humans share some of the same cancer diagnoses, our pets cannot directly verbalize their health concerns. As the primary guardians of our pets‘ health, we must recognize clinical signs of illness and immediately pursue veterinary evaluation.

I am fortunate to work with the esteemed team of veterinary oncologists at the Veterinary Cancer Group (VCG) in Culver City (Los Angeles), CA. Along with providing cutting-edge cancer treatment to pets, VCG educates people on early illness recognition through their 10 Warning Signs of Cancer in Dogs & Cats.

1. Persistent change in appetite and/or water intake

2. A lump that is enlarging, changing, or waxing and waning in size

3. Progressive weight loss or weight gain

4. Non-healing sore or infection, such as persistent nail bed infection

5. Abnormal odor

6. Persistent or recurring lameness

7. Chronic vomiting or diarrhea

8. Persistent or recurring cough

9. Unexplained bleeding or discharge

10. Difficulty swallowing, breathing, urinating, or defecating

Through my work with VCG oncologists, I have learned so much about the complicated nature of veterinary cancer care. Besides patient treatment, VCG veterinarians have the additional responsibility of navigating the turbulent emotions and financial capabilities of the pet-loving family. Having witnessed the dedication to their craft and to their clients on an ongoing basis, I am giving the VCG oncologists the opportunity to share their views on the current state of cancer treatment for pets:

Mona Rosenberg DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (Oncology), owner, CEO, and Chief of Staff of VCG

"When treating cancer, there is hope for your pet. Pursuing a consultation with a board certified veterinary oncologist will provide you with perspective on the best options available."

Mary Davis, DVM (Practice Limited to Oncology)

"Veterinary oncology is moving in some exciting new directions. With new advances in treatment options, pets are living longer with a better quality of life while receiving treatments."

Jared Lyons DVM, Diplomate ACVR (Radiation Oncology)

"Cancer is not a death sentence. With the variety of therapies available to pet owners today, we are able to overcome obstacles that were previously insurmountable."<

Brigitte Tam-Coleman, DVM (Practice Limited to Oncology)

"There are options for treatment and maintaining patient comfort even when chemotherapy or radiation are not pursued."

Avanelle Turner, DVM Diplomate ACVIM (Oncology)

"Many different types of cancers are similar to chronic diseases. Like liver, kidney, or heart disease, we manage these conditions (versus curing them), while still providing a good quality of life."

As cliche as it sounds, projecting positivity and embracing the opportunity to enjoy every moment with your pet is good for everyone involved in the disease management process. With the guidance of a support system (veterinarians, family, friends, etc.), pet caretakers must face companion animal illness with an educated sense of realism as to the possible outcomes.

Even if an absolute cure cannot be achieved, we owe it to our animal companions to provide the best quality of life possible (see Quality of Life Scale). Providing the best care for a severely ill pet may even mean electively discontinuing treatment and pursuing euthanasia. Regardless of the presence of cancer, ending a pet’s life is an inevitable decision for which we must be prepared.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

In remembrance of patients of mine that are living with or have succumbed to cancer:

white lab, white labrador retriever, dogs with cancer

Quinn

little dog, little brown dog, brown chihuahua, dogs with cancer

Benny

little tan and white dog, dogs with cancer, small dog

Dobby

german shepherd, dogs with cancer, brown dog, http://www.petmd.com/sites/default/files/layla_0013.jpeg" width="338" />

Layla

black dog, black rottweiler, black and tan dog, dogs with cancer

Trixie

Comments  25

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  • Well Done
    11/01/2011 01:40am

    Nicely done, Dr. Patrick. I think the pet owner's state of mind in a cancer situation is just as important as the pet's condition. I remember hearing an oncologist speak at a conference last year and his main message was to give the owner's hope. He also was very adamant about palliative treatment even if pursuing a cure wasn't possible. "Keep them eating, keep them from feeling pain and keep them from vomiting or having diarrhea" were his commandments of pet cancer care.

  • 11/01/2011 01:34pm

    Thank you Dr Lorie,
    I am glad to hear you share your recollections of other veterinary oncologists who share the message of hope in the face of illness.
    If an illness, like cancer, cannot be completely resolved, it may be managed to a degree that our patient/owner's pet still has a good quality of life.
    In treating all disease process (cancer or other), I always stress the close evaluation of quality of life as the utmost factor in pursuing treatment or permitting a graceful exit from this work.
    Dr PM

  • 11/01/2011 03:25am

    Quality of life ... I believe that's what it all boils down to.

  • 11/01/2011 01:36pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    You are absolutely correct.
    As the guardians of our pets wellness and determined proponents of treatment during illness, the quality of life is the most important thing we can provide.
    Dr PM

  • The Big C
    11/01/2011 07:19am

    I've had three kitties that had cancer, although they were different types of cancers.

    The Lovely Louise had adenocarcinoma and she left us in 2008. There was nothing but palliative care available and we all did our best for the 10 days she had left.

    Darlene had so many problems from failing kidneys to high blood pressure to congestive heart failure. The doctor had seen possible lymph node enlargement in her abdomen and did ultrasounds to keep an eye on it. It never got very big, but after she left us, a necropsy showed that her abdomen was full of cancer. Considering we watched the lymph nodes for about 2 years and she had so many other problems, I doubt there's anything we could have done to give her a longer life with quality.

    Winston was another story. His lymphocytic lymphoma was treated with chemo and steroids and was in remission for quite awhile. He was happily unaware he was sick. We stopped the chemo when it became obvious he was out of remission and he still had a good quality of life for almost another year.

    They are all terribly missed and I wouldn't have done anything differently. I'm grateful for an amazing vet and wonderful clinic who helped give them the longest quality of life possible.

  • 11/01/2011 01:38pm

    Thank you for sharing your personal stories.
    Louise, Darlene, and Winston were fortunate to have such a concerned guardian like you.
    Their quality of life was placed high on the list of important factors in their day to day care, as you describe.
    Dr PM

  • still a long way
    11/01/2011 11:06am

    There is still a very long way to go in cancer treatment for pets and if your looking at stage four, man best of luck.

    Even with all the different chemo drugs ( is it 10 now?) they still rate your pets chance at 50 percent...that is if he does not get sick from the chemo itself...and if he is already on some pain medications...well often the pet can't take those anymore..too much for the system.

    Cancer is still VERY BAD NEWS for most pets. The sad part is most pets will get cancer. can you tell I hate cancer?

  • 11/01/2011 01:42pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    Yes, cancer is always a concerning diagnosis.
    Are pets being diagnosed with cancer more frequently these days? I think so.
    Is it because cancer is becoming more prevalent in our pets or that the pursuit of a confirmed diagnosis (and subsequent treatment) is occurring? I think it is a combination of both.
    Hopefully, with owner education, pursuit of a whole food/non-processed diet, avoidance of toxins and excessive immunostimulants, reduction of obesity and chronic inflammation/infection, etc we will see reduced incidences of cancer in the years to come.
    Dr PM

  • 11/01/2011 01:50pm

    amen to that brother.

  • Elvis and Marilyn
    11/01/2011 02:22pm

    This is a timely article for me. My 11 yr old (12 on Nov 28) border collie, Elvis, was diagnosed with lymphoma on 15 October. After a bit of messing around with biopsies and other tests, he finally started chemo on 28 October. Apart from slight incontinence on the 29th, he has suffered no side effects and is almost back to his old self in just 5 days!

    He has not been staged as apparently this wasn't clear from the biopsies but I feel that from his quick response to the medication, we have probably caught this quite early. I have always been vigilent about his and his sister, Marilyn's, health.

    They are now both on homemade diets and drink only water from an artisian well close to our home. I wish we had known well before now just how toxic dried dog good is for our companions. At first I felt very guilty about E's cancer but now I just know I have to put as much care and effort as possible into his care.

    We now also have in place a system where Elvis and Marilyn have human companionship for the most part of each day, allowing them to enjoy and be enjoyed - I am sure the positive attention they receive is a crutial part of E's path to recovery ... whatever that may look like.

    With love, attention to his diet and surroundings, and the best medical care we can possibly provide, I am hopeful we will share his life for many more months, if not years to come.

    My one concern is that his sister (11 in January) may succumb to the same disease. Having said that, she shows no signs of it and her health issues have been quiet different to E's over the years - mainly that she has arthritis and he does not. Dr Patrick, are there tests that could determine if Marilyn is likely to be affected by cancer. Apart from chnaging her diet as with E, is the anything else I could be doing to minimise her chances of getting this awful disease?

    Thank you again for such a timely article.

  • 11/01/2011 03:19pm

    GO Elvis! Im rooting for you!

  • 11/01/2011 08:37pm

    Keep us in the loop with how Elvis is doing. We've all got our fingers crossed for him.

  • 11/07/2011 03:41pm

    Hi there - thanks so much for your interest in my gorgeous boy. A quick update. Elvis has had his week 1 bloods and week 2 chemo. The bloods came back "slightly improved". I queried the process regarding the bloods and have been advised that the tests are taken to ensure the patient is not deteriorating. The vet indicated he would expect to see an improvement maybe 3 weeks into the chemo treatment so to see an improvement in the first week is a big plus. I'm not sure how much of this is just positive reinforcement to keep me calm, but I'm happy to see ANY improvement.

    Elvis is very well, eating good meals and not drinking too much. I was concerned any increase in drinking might show a problem with his kidneys, and was also advised that the steroids (prednisone) would increase his thirst. But it seems he mainly drinks because he wants to. He's also back to playing and is very alert.

    All in all, we're very positive to date. Will update again in a couple of weeks :)

  • 11/07/2011 07:09pm

    @Lochheart,

    That's great news. Any time our critters enjoy playing and eating, that's great! Quality of life is what's important.

    Here's hoping Elvis keeps improving.

  • 11/21/2011 12:50am

    Sadly, our beautiful big boy Elvis passed away today, one week shy of his 12th birthday.

    He had a low white blood count reading last Wednesday, chemo was halted for the week and he contracted an infection on Friday. He just couldn't fight it and we had to let him go today.

    We are devastated but have to keep looking for positives as we continue life with his gorgeous sister, Marilyn. Thanks for your interest in how he was doing.

  • 11/21/2011 06:56am

    Oh Lochheart, I'm so sorry.

    It's so heart-wrenching to lose a family member.

    All we can do is give them the best qualify of life possible and be brave enough to let them go when it's time.

    There's no doubt that Elvis was so very special and lucky to have you.

  • 11/23/2011 11:17am

    I am so sorry to hear of Elvis' passing.
    I am sure that you gave him the best quality of life possibly and made the decision to let him go when it seemed likely he would no longer recover or have the quality of life he deserved.
    My thoughts are with you.
    Dr PM

  • 11/03/2011 02:38pm

    Lochheart,
    Thank you for your comments and sharing the story of your personal pet's struggle with cancer.
    Elvis and Marylin are lucky to have such a concerned parent in yourself.
    Regarding Marilyn and cancer awareness, I suggest she has diagnostics such as blood/urine/fecal testing and chest/abdominal radiographs (xrays) to start. An abdominal ultrasound is another great diagnostic tool which can yield information about abdominal organs that may be elusive on rads, yet start with the rads first.
    Feeding a whole food diet (and avoiding processed foods) is another great place to provide real food nutrients that can provide an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-cancer effect.
    Good luck,
    Dr PM

  • Zorro
    11/01/2011 03:05pm

    I lost my 12 year old cat Zorro just shy of a month ago. He was diagnosed with Subcuetaneous Hemangia sarcoma back in mid July 2011. I had felt a small lump in lower abdomen and when the vet shaved him for surgery he had bruising all over his stomach and inner legs. It was very scary looking. I was shocked by how little information there was online about this particular cancer in cats. My vet told me that this was his first experience with his type of cancer. He had 2 surgeries and it continued to come back. It was nice that he contined eating and was his usual self untill a day or two before we decided it was time. I just wanted to share his story in hopes that maybe more information could potentially help someone else going through this with their pet.

  • 11/01/2011 03:17pm

    so sorry for your loss, RIP sweet Zorro.

  • 11/01/2011 08:36pm

    @CodyandZorro,

    I'm so terribly sorry for your loss. It must have been heartbreaking to see Zorro with all that bruising.

    Hopefully it's a comfort that you did everything possible to give Zorro a quality of life while he was still with you.

  • 11/03/2011 03:01pm

    Thank you for your comments and for sharing your personal perspective from enduring a beloved pet's illness.
    Please accept my condolences regarding Zorro's loss.
    One place I sent pet lovers to for information regarding cancer is the OncolinkVet site (from the Abramson Cancer Center of University of Pennsylvania):
    http://www.oncolink.org/types/section.cfm?c=22&s=69

    Although it does not specifically list cutaneous hemangiosarcoma on their site, there is a wealth of helpful information about cancer and treatment.
    Dr PM

  • Cancer In Dogs
    11/04/2011 11:42am

    I just lost my American Bulldog to cancer on Monday, 10/31/11, she was 9 years old. I'm really confused on the subject of pet cancer. I was told by two vets, that my dog probably wouldn't have gotten the cancer if we would have stayed in Florida. We moved here in 2004, and my dog started having problems 6 months after we moved. Yesterday, I was sitting in the vets office with my cat, for her annual shots, and I was talking to a lady who said she lost a family of dogs, the mom, dad, and all three puppies to cancer. She said she was told it was due to the city water elements. She said the vet told her the cases have tripled in the last two years for dogs. Since we have lived here in New York, we have lost 5 pets to cancer, 4 dogs and 1 cat. We were told that removing the tumors wouldn't help, because they would come back, $5000 later we lost our beloved pet.

  • 11/04/2011 02:23pm

    Thank you for your comments and for sharing your personal story regarding cancer in your pets.
    Unfortunately, there is never any one cancer cause. It is a combination of genetics, environmental exposure (toxins in food, water, etc), result of infections, improper management of inflammation, or potentially secondary to vaccinations/medications (immunostimulants). Therefore, avoidance or proper administration of the above are always recommended.
    Cancers are being diagnosed and treated with more regularity as the public becomes more aware of the disease and pursues a diagnosis (or strong suspicion).
    As I mentioned genetics, there is definitely a familial disposition of some dogs and breeds to cancer. Therefore, dogs from multiple generations can have the same or similar illness.
    Dr PM

  • 11/04/2011 07:21pm

    @DAVANDEE58,

    I'm so sorry you lost your bulldog. It always leaves a hole in your heart and the hole is even bigger when you've tried everything you can to make their life better. Hopefully it's a comfort knowing you did all you could.

    I'd be curious to know the scientific reasoning behind two vets telling you "it's the water" in New York. Did they say there are chemicals in the water? If so, did they say what chemicals they are?

    It is odd that the cancer numbers climbed in your area. Do you know if there are any articles, studies or statistics on it?

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