1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Chemo–for my pet????

    Chemotherapy is one of the four major therapies for cancer–the three others being surgery, radiation, and immunotherapy. During most of the consults that we do, chemotherapy is discussed. The looks I get when I recommend chemotherapy for people’s pets can range from unbelief to fright.

    The first thing that I do is immediately tell owners that chemotherapy is handled much better by dogs and cats than it is by people. Although cancers are similar among dogs, cats, and people, the therapies affect them differently. The reason why our dogs and cats handle chemotherapy differently is because we as veterinary oncologists and you as pet owners have decided that we don’t want to put our pets through what people go through. Because of this mindset, veterinary oncologists have changed the way chemotherapy is given. We use lower doses as compared to the doses used to treat people with cancer. In addition, we give the chemotherapy for a longer time period, sometimes as long as a year, whereas most chemotherapy protocols used to for people take only a few weeks to months to complete.

    Additionally, over the past 5 years, there have been significant advances in strategies to mitigate the toxicity of chemotherapy. New medications such as Cerenia (an anti-vomiting medication) along with anti-diarrhea medications and certain classes of antibiotics are used to decrease and in some cases eliminate the most common side effects–vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy (loss of energy) and anorexia (loss of appetite). We have also found that it is easier to prevent these side effects, rather than wait for them to occur and then treat. We do this because the veterinary oncologists at VOHC are not only concerned with quantity of life but also with quality of life. We try very hard to insure that all the pets we treat have the highest quality of life and the longest quantity of life.