November is National Pet Cancer Awareness Month, so my petMD Daily Vet articles are trending toward topics pertaining to cancer diagnosis and treatment.
The statistics about cancer in our pets are astounding and are definitely not in favor of our companion canines and felines.
According to PetCancerAwareness.org:
- Cancer accounts for nearly 50% of all disease-related pet deaths each year (via The Veterinary Cancer Center)
- Dogs get cancer at roughly the same rate as humans (via the American Veterinary Medical Association)
- Approximately 1 in 4 dogs develops a tumor of some kind during his lifetime (via the American Veterinary Medical Association)
If you're not already aware, I have endured the process of putting my own pet through surgery and chemotherapy to resolve his cancer. It's been a challenging yet inspirational process that has taught me much about the integrative approach to Cardiff’s cancer care, where I combine Western (conventional) and Eastern (Chinese medicine) approaches to consider his disease and treatment from a holistic perspective (see links to Cardiff’s story and others at the end of this article).
As a veterinarian, one of the top goals in my practice is to reduce the likelihood that my patients will be exposed to man-made and environmental toxins that could be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Yet, sometimes you can strive to do your best in providing a non-toxic existence for your pet, but nature has another plan. Such was the case with Cardiff.
I therefore felt an obligation to share my story as a pet owner and veterinarian dealing with cancer in his own canine companion through a documentary called My Friend: Changing the Journey. Terry Simmons, founder of the Canine Lymphoma Education Awareness and Research (CLEAR) Foundation, and the film’s director, Stacey-Zipfel Flannery, got me involved in the project, which was shot from early spring through summer 2014 and captured many aspects of Cardiff’s cancer treatment. The message I want to convey to other pet owners enduring the trials and tribulations of companion-animal cancer is that there’s hope out there to beat the disease.
Paige O’Hara, best known as the memorable voice of Bell from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, narrated the film, which recently premiered at a fundraiser to benefit CLEAR foundation at the Vertigo Event Venue in Burbank, California. Laura Nativo, a pet-passionate professional dog trainer (CPDT-KA), pet lifestyle expert, and regular contributor to Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family, hosted the event.
Two days later, Nativo and I teamed to educate the Home & Family audience about pet cancer awareness. See the full segment here: Canine Cancer Awareness Month
It’s important that all pet owners are mindful of the clinical signs of cancer, which may vary from subtle to obvious. On a weekly basis, I work at the Veterinary Cancer Group (VCG) in Culver City, CA, alongside veterinary oncologists who provide cutting-edge cancer treatments for dogs, cats, and other species. VCG also educates people on early illness recognition through their 10 Warning Signs of Cancer in Dogs & Cats, which can include:
- Persistent change in appetite and/or water intake
- A lump that is enlarging, changing, or waxing and waning in size
- Progressive weight loss or weight gain
- Non-healing sore or infection, such as persistent nail bed infection
- Abnormal odor
- Persistent or recurring lameness
- Persistent or recurring cough
- Unexplained bleeding or discharge
- Difficulty swallowing, breathing, urinating, or defecating
In addition to looking for the above clinical signs, I always stress that my clients have their pets undergo a physical examination by a veterinarian at least every 12 months (more frequently with sick animals and those regularly receiving medications). The eyes and hands of veterinarians are highly trained to seek out problems that may not be apparent to the average pet owner. Additionally, thorough history-taking can identify behavioral trends (decreased appetite, lethargy, etc.) that may not seem as serious to a canine or feline caretaker, but may raise concern in the overseeing veterinarian.
I hope your pets stay healthy and cancer-free throughout their lives. Should the diagnosis of cancer occur in your pet, I suggest pursuing a consultation with a veterinary oncologist. These specialty-trained veterinarians have dedicated their professional livelihoods to diagnosing and treating cancer and are better resources in determining the most appropriate course of action than are general practice veterinarians, who may only occasionally treat tumors and their associated problems. Ask your regular veterinarian for a referral or you can find a veterinary oncologist in your area via the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM).
The Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family, Mark Steines, Christina Ferrare, Laura Nativo, Cardiff, and Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Premiere of My Friend: Changing the Journey; with Terry Simmons, Dr. Patrick Mahaney, Stacey Zipfel-Flannery, Cardiff, Phil Hammond
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Image: Cardiff getting treatment