Facing pet cancer | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Facing pet cancer

Dawn Armstrong
Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA

My smiley, happy dog, Cher, has been diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma. It is one of three main types of canine pet cancer. The silent disease was hiding in her bone marrow until a slight limp which disappeared in 24 hours returned as a painful leg she lifted off the ground without complaint. The day Cher was diagnosed, another patient also was, and a third came for euthanasia with a like condition. All three dogs at the same veterinarian on the same day had cancer in the same left rear limb.

During the past six weeks, I have learned that up to 50 percent of cats and 65 percent of dogs are being diagnosed with cancer. Pet cancer research is limited, and has been concentrated on large, at-risk purebreds like golden retrievers and German shepherds. Cher is an adopted medium sized “mutt,” but she is within a typical age range of 7-9 years for adult canine cancer. There are fewer feline studies.

What is causing this dramatic increase? 

In working with pets and people, my lay person theory was that our pets drink the same water and breathe the same air that we do. It turns out that, in fact, scientists are looking at every possibility including the toxins we put on our lawns and store under our sinks, fluoride in water and the effects of second hand smoke on pets.

With amputation for immediate pain relief and follow up chemotherapy to blast the large cancer cells, Cher’s life expectancy is about 6 months. The cost of her treatment is prohibitive, but as long as she continues to smile and enjoys a normal quality of life without being drugged numb, I’ll figure it out. Accepting and simply adapting to her new “tri-pawed” status, Cher is back to normal activity, including bringing her ball for fetch. The squirrels in the yard remain at risk. She has handled this ordeal better than I have. While my tears may flow, I try to stay in the moment with her and map ways to the water where the walk isn’t far.

What can pet guardians do?

Some cancers can be stopped when confined to a specific tumor which is successfully removed. Check your cat or dog everyday for lumps and bumps. Learn what the difference is between a skin tag, a “wart”, a benign or a suspicious growth. Check between toes. Get pet insurance. Pet care costs have escalated along with human medical costs. Talk to your veterinarian about what pet insurance plan is best for what your pet is likely to suffer. Many medical issues are breed specific for higher risk, including cancer. Cats are not so identified yet, except for some studies with white cats. Pay regular attention to changes in your cat’s face and lips.

If I had been aware of current pet cancer research needs, Cher would have been able to contribute a valuable sample from her amputated limb. Below are links to studies and samples needed including how your veterinarian can provide them. Some university researchers take patients into their programs and cover medical costs.

The Internet has good information and emotional support sites. Beware of scams selling so called pet cancer treatments or cures. Stay as calm as your pet and use your veterinarian and his or her connections with cancer specialists as your trusted resource. These links lead to as much in-depth information as you wish to explore. 

– Purebreds and any dog study samples needed, Jaime F. Modiano, V.M.D., Ph.D., University of Minnesota , http://www.modianolab.org

– Emergency sample preparation, Mitzi Lewellen, (612) 626-6890, lewel001@umn.edu

– Feline cancer resources, http://www.zzcat.com

– Cat oral cancer study, Dr. William Kisseberth, Ohio State University, http://www.vet.osu.edu/WilliamKisseberth

– Veterinary Cancer Society, http://www.vetcancersociety.org

– Pet Cancer Foundation, http://www.petcancerfoundation.org

– Pet Cancer Awareness, http://www.petcancerawareness.org

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