1. What I would change about the Veterinary Education System

    I was at a conference recently with two colleagues of mine and we started talking about veterinary education. I am not sure how the topic came up, what we all started discussing the same point almost in unison. The topic was communication and how veterinarians discuss options with pet owners.

    All three of us had graduated from different veterinary schools, gone through different internships and residencies –and yet we all agreed that veterinary students everywhere need to re-organize their communication priorities.

    What do I mean “communication priorities”—I mean medical/surgical options need to be prioritized above finances. Don’t get me wrong, finances are AN important consideration when discussing any medical therapy, but they should not be the primary one. Information about options- ALL the options available, should be THE most important consideration.  Once a veterinarian and pet owner both understand what options are available for the pet, then, and only then should finances-or whatever other constraints –time, emotional, finances, etc.–may be pertinent to that pet owner be discussed.

    By prioritizing information and options first and finances second, we can better insure that the pet will get the best care possible AND that everything will be done that the pet owner can afford. If the priorities are stay as they are, clients will continue to feel that optimal care was not recommended or given, veterinarians will feel they need to be accountants, bankers and financial managers first and medical professionals second.

    We, the veterinary profession, need to trust pet owners. Trust that they can make the best decision for their family and their pet. This requires accurate and complete information. Veterinarians need to allow the owners to hear ALL of their options and then help them make choices, rather than only communicate those options the veterinarian THINKS the owner’s can afford.  Veterinarians need to be medical professionals not financial professionals. Pet owners come to us for medical information and guidance.

    Survey after survey over the past 25 years have shown that owners would have done more for their pet if their veterinarian had recommended it. The impetus to change the way we as veterinarians communicate needs to start at the veterinary schools throughout the country, this is where we learned the current communication prioritization.

    Empowering the pet owners and informing them of all the options available—as a starting point for discussion –may not be easy, but it is the right thing to do for the pets that have been entrusted into our care.

  2. Bladder Cancer in Dogs


    Did you know that both dogs and people get bladder cancer? Did you know that some breeds are almost 20 X more likely to get bladder cancer than other breeds? And did you know that there is a test that can help determine if your pet does NOT have bladder cancer?

    Bladder cancer is not an uncommon cancer in either people or pets. In people somewhere between 1 in 28 to 1 in 84 will develop the disease. In dogs, 2% will develop the disease, but certain breeds—Scottish terriers, Shetland sheepdogs, beagles, and West Highland white terriers—have a much higher risk of developing bladder transitional cell carcinoma. Of these breeds, Scottish terriers have the highest risk, with an almost 20-fold increased risk compared with mixed-breed dogs. In addition to breed, another risk factor in dogs is the exposure to herbicides and / or pesticide s on the lawn.

    The signs of bladder cancer in dogs are straining to urinate, increased frequency of urination, and blood in the urine. These signs are very similar to the symptoms people report. Because our pets cannot talk to us, we often detect bladder cancer at a more advanced stage compared to people.  There is a test—the Bladder Tumor Antigen (BTA) test-that can be used. This test is very sensitive—meaning it is very good at detecting the disease if it exists, but it is not very specific—meaning it is NOT very good at telling us that a positive tests actually means that they have the disease. The BTA may, however, be very useful for screening young dogs of at risk breeds. If  Scottish terriers, Shetland sheepdogs, beagles, and West Highland white terriers were screened with the BTA,  a negative result would inform the owner with a high probability that the dog was free of bladder cancer at that time.

    So the bottom line, and best advice for decreasing the risk of bladder cancer in your pets is to: 1) restrict their exposure to herbicides and pesticides and 2) if you have a breed that has a high risk (or you are a very concerned owner) you may want to start yearly screenings your dog with the BTA test at a young age.

  3. Cancer is NOT a death sentence

    Recent advances in human and veterinary medicine are increasing survival rates for both people and animals with cancer. Both human and veterinary oncologists treat cancer traditionally using methods including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy. Over the past 20 years in oncology practice, I have seen some wondrous advances in treatment options. These newer modalities include cancer vaccines and targeted chemotherapy, which will be explored in future columns.

    Today, veterinary surgeons are using innovative techniques such as limb sparing surgeries that can help pets with bone cancer avoid amputation. When surgery is combined with chemotherapy, veterinary oncologists achieve significant improvement in extending the lives of our pets. In addition, the pet’s quality of life is maintained with new chemotherapy dosing regimens and advanced methods to mitigate the side effects of chemotherapy. Veterinary oncologists anticipate and prevent side effects such as vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia (loss of appetite) and lethargy (loss of energy level), rather than address them as they occur. New Information from European cancer centers that certain antibiotics can be used to help alleviate many of the side effects of chemotherapy is being used in veterinary hospitals as well.

    The melanoma vaccine, produced by Merial, is another example of how much progress researchers and clinicians are making in cancer treatment. This vaccine helps pets with the most aggressive form of melanoma—those that arise in the mouth or on a digit—to live much longer than previous treatments. I experienced this first hand in 2003 when my own dog, Smokey, a miniature schnauzer, developed a digital melanoma at age 12. Not only did Smokey have a tumor on his toe, but the cancer had spread to his lungs as well. I knew that the prognosis was grave—3 months. Smokey was given the melanoma vaccine, which was in experimental phase at that time. With this therapy, he enjoyed wonderful quality of life and lived 2 ½ more years. You can read more about Smokey’s experience at

    I just completed filming an informational video for the Riedel and Cody Fund that provides more evidence that pet cancer is not a death sentence; you can find it online at

    Pets with cancer are enjoying longer and better lives than ever before; there is a plethora of treatment options available to insure that every dog and cat with cancer gets a chance at therapy.