It was frightening. I knew what the words meant, but couldn’t comprehend how they could possibly apply to us. I heard our veterinarian gently explain one of my beloved Maltese needed to see another veterinarian to explore our options. I was shocked. I forced myself to take a breath. My hands were shaking as a hundred questions raced through my mind. I was too afraid to ask some of those questions.
My sweet sixteen year old had slowed down, was a bit pickier about her food and didn’t like to get up before the sun, but she never seemed in pain as far as I had noticed. My best friend still had puppy moments; bark battles with the dog next door and always seemed to lead the way for her younger pack mate. I prayed our veterinarian was mistaken and there was another explanation.
Our long time veterinarian wasn’t wrong on her diagnosis. My dog was suffering from lymphoma.
Navigating a cancer diagnosis can be a frightening time for a pet owner. It is important to have access to information if you should ever face the issue with your pet. That is why May, 2016, is the seventh annual “Pet Cancer Awareness Month.”
Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs over the age of 10. Cancer in cats is less common than cancer in dogs but it tends to be a more aggressive form. If caught early, about half of all cancers are curable.
“Cancer in pets is painfully common, frequently treatable, and among the most manageable chronic diseases of old age” explains Jeffrey N. Bryan, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVIM. The Director of the Scott Endowed Program in Veterinary Oncology and Comparative Oncology and Epigenetics Laboratory at the University Of Missouri College Of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Bryan has front line experience in amazing advances in pet cancer treatment.
Many cats and dogs diagnosed with cancer can be treated by their veterinarian. Some cancers can be removed surgically and the pet is cured. For others, there are many of the same options available to human cancer patients; radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
“Cancer treatment involves a lot of communication between what we refer to as the ‘triad of care’ – the pet parent, the primary care veterinarian, and the specialist,” says Gerald Post, DVM, MEM, DACVIM (Oncology), practice owner of The Veterinary Cancer Center located in Connecticut which is one of the organizations that sponsors Pet Cancer Awareness Month. “For example, the pet parent needs to be aware of any unusual lumps or bumps a pet may have, the primary care veterinarian will aspirate those bumps to find out if they are cancerous or benign, and the specialist will develop a tailored treatment plan for that individual pet patient.”
The warning signs of cancer in pets can be similar to those in people. If an animal is not feeling quite right, a swelling or lameness can be a sign to check with your veterinarian explains Dr. Bryan, “Clients should report new lumps or changes in health to their veterinarians immediately. The vets should investigate promptly.”
Unfortunately, sometimes there are few or no warning signs of cancer, at least early on. The point of Pet Cancer Awareness Month is to empower pet parents with knowledge, so that they realize that cancer is not automatically a death sentence for pets.
Pet parents can find specialists across the country through location searches on the VetSpecialists.com directory. VetSpecialists.com was developed in 2015 as a partnership between the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the American College of Veterinary Surgeons to provide education about diseases and conditions affecting animals and to increase awareness of veterinary specialty medicine.
If you are interested in learning more about pet cancer check out the University of Missouri’s Veterinary Oncology website. There are a number of resources on cancer and animals on their website.