1. 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.

  2. Are ALL breeds at risk for cancer?

    This is a question I am often asked by family and friends who are looking for a dog. The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer is yes–ALL breeds, ALL dogs, ALL cats have a risk for getting cancer in their lifetime. Just as all people have a chance of getting this awful disease. As it turns out, the overall risk is about 30% overall, whether you are a dog, cat, human or even a blue whale (as Carl Zimmer pointed out in a recent blog post (

    Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain dogs- these are some of the breeds we often think of when talking about cancer. Lymphoma is common in Goldens, Boxers and many other breeds. Osteosarcoma is all too familiar for owners of Rottweilers, Greyhounds, and giant breeds in general. The Scottish Terrier has an 18 fold higher chance of developing bladder cancer (transitional cell carcinoma) than the average dog.

    In a recent landmark study, researchers determined the breed-specific causes of death (Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 2011; 25 (2): 187 ). As it turns out, cancer is one of, if not the leading cause of death in larger dogs.

    The unfortunate truth–any dog or cat can develop cancer. I have seen mutts, mixed breeds, dogs of all shapes and sizes develop cancer. There is no breed that is immune from this disease. So the best advice I can give you if you are looking for a pet–find a dog or cat that you love, whether that be through a rescue organization or a breeder. Take care of the pet with routine health check ups, a complete and balanced diet, and as the pet gets older, talk to your veterinarian about screening tests for cancer–catching this diseaese early is still helpful whether you are a dog, cat or person.

  3. I Can’t Afford Treatment

    We hear this a lot, especially over the last 3 years during the economic downturn. While it is true that treating your dog or cat with cancer can be very costly, it does not have to be. While the traditional therapies of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy remain the standards and they are usually (but not always) the most effective therapy for a particular type of cancer they are not the only options any more. Over the past few years the number of options to treat cancer in pets have mushroomed. There are more protocols and types of therapy now than there ever was.

    We now utilize anti-angiogenic therapy and metronomic therapy. These two types of treatment typically utilize oral medications. They are also less costly than many other protocols–and in some cases equally as effective.

    A great example is “Penny” a 14 year old mix breed who was diagnosed with a low grade sarcoma 2 years ago. The owners opted for anti-angiogenic therapy as they could not afford traditional radiation therapy or chemotherapy. It has been 2 years and “Penny” is still doing well and her owners are thrilled that they were able to do something for their pet.

    At our practice in Norwalk, we also participate in many clinical trials. One of the advantages of clinical trials is that they are either partially or fully funded. This means direct and in some cases, substantial savings to the pet owner. This is just one of the advantages of clinical trials–I will discuss the other advantages in a later post.

    So, the next time you think “I can’t afford to treat my pet with cancer,” you may need to think again.